The auction for reruns of “This is Us” began with the usual suspects. Streaming pioneer Netflix bid millions to offer NBC’s year-old hit, a multigenerational family drama. So did Amazon.com, the e-commerce giant with growing ambitions in online media.
Yet the domestic streaming rights went to a newer buyer: Hulu, the rival service owned by four big media companies, including two that made and broadcast “This Is Us.” The company and NBC bid about $3.5 million per episode for U.S. rights from 21st Century Fox Inc., which produced the show, people familiar with the matter said. That ranks among the priciest licensing deals ever for Hulu, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private deal.
Backed by Hollywood’s deepest pockets, Hulu has a chance to reshape the burgeoning business of online TV. After years of licensing films and shows to Netflix to replace their own sagging DVD sales, owners Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Time Warner Inc. are giving Hulu the support it needs to be a vigorous competitor. They also stand to gain more control over their own futures as viewing moves to the internet, where streaming movies and TV shows are projected to generate $46 billion this year globally.
To compete with larger rivals, Hulu is spending about $2.5 billion on movies and shows in 2017 — often ones carried by those competing services. This year, the company acquired rights to more than 3,000 episodes of TV, including “NYPD Blue” and “The Bernie Mac Show” from Fox, “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” from ABC, and past NBC hits “Will & Grace” and “30 Rock.” Hulu also became the first streaming service to win the Emmy award for best drama, with the dystopian series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
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