Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar’s Stealth Startup Bets Consumers Still Count On Legacy Publishers For ‘Premium’ Content


Recode reports that former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar is leading the development of a new startup, The Fremont Project, which will allow readers to choose from a selection of premium magazine and newspaper titles.

Kilar’s “Hulu for magazines” concept centers around gaining exclusive digital rights for a media title, and then adapting the content to, in the words of one source, “make it more ‘Snow Fall’-like.”

Unclear now is whether the duty of injecting journalism with multimedia-juice will be taken in-house by The Fremont Project, or whether publishers are expected to kick-start their own efforts at integrating techies with wordsmiths.

What is clear is that amidst the current reshuffling of digital journalism, the line between ‘premium’ content and, um, the ‘other stuff’ is becoming starker.

For premium digital publishers, the command for high-end advertisements seems to be on an infinite uptake. James Del, executive director of Gawker’s in-house ads agency and events business, tells David Carr of the New York Times, “Our advertisers know what we can do for them, if we deliver the right message.” Meanwhile, the ‘other stuff’ has to settle for commodity advertising, which is quite literally a race to the bottom — infinite supply of content meeting a market with very little demand.

The Fremont Project will operate via subscriptions and ad revenue, and has so far pitched to glossy Manhattan conglomerates like News Corp., Hearst, Time Inc. and Conde Nast. The Fremont Project seems to presume, then, that for all the falling profits, structural inefficiencies and pure bombast, ‘legacy’ still equates to ‘premium.’

But remember, venture-backed digital natives like BuzzFeed, Gawker and Vice are the ones riding the boom of ambitious, high-end advertising — not

The Fremont Project’s success will obviously depend on how fast legacy publishers are embracing digital investments (note: very fast, but not all very effectively), but more to the point, how much their content really can be adapted to multimedia. A story like ‘Snow Fall’ is literally an action blockbuster just begging for parallax scrolling, integrated video and interactive maps. Does a profile in ‘The New Yorker’ about, say, the rise of alternative education in China really have the same dynamism? Does it even need to, for all purposes of storytelling?

The existential question of print journalism vs. ‘web-digital’ journalism lends itself particularly well to the context of Kilar’s startup, and analysts will only scratch deeper as we watch media rogues like Ezra Klein, Pierre Omidyar and Arianna Huffington try to take eyeballs away from publications like Time, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The New Yorker. Meanwhile, in a new year full of new-media buzz, The Fremont Project’s bet on old-hats catching up to the times is just another risk in an increasingly risk-prone industry.

And the more risks, the higher potential payoff.