What Hulu Will Do... And What It Won't - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
05:41 PM
Michael Singer
Michael Singer

What Hulu Will Do... And What It Won't

I've been beta testing Hulu.com, the NBC Universal - News Corp. collaboration that puts TV shows and some movies online. At first blush ... it's very entertaining and there are some enterprise possibilities, but why does it have to be so much like TV?

I've been beta testing Hulu.com, the NBC Universal - News Corp. collaboration that puts TV shows and some movies online. At first blush ... it's very entertaining and there are some enterprise possibilities, but why does it have to be so much like TV?Like so many other tech pundits, I had my skeptical hat on when I heard about Hulu. Yet another studio-funded video site trying to recapture an audience that has migrated to the Web? (insert sarcasm here) Really? How original. But I decided to give it a try after I was faced with the reality that I was relying too much on bootleg copies of shows and clips on YouTube for entertainment.

So after a month of playing with it, here's why I think Hulu works: The interface. It's clean. It's from the studio (meaning no audio pops or video fuzz). It doesn't force me to use a third-party plug-in or pop-up screen like Disney/ABC uses. It remembers where I left off if I have to quit a session, which is nice. And you can share or embed the video in your blog.

The selection is fair to middling. About 250 television series ranging from classics like Adam 12, I Dream of Jeannie, and Flipper to the contemporaries such as The Simpsons, 30 Rock, and The Office and even the absurd ... Does anyone really need to watch Rob and Amber: Against the Odds on demand?

Movies are split between really good ones like The Big Lebowski and some I'll avoid like All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 (Sorry, Charlie).

Shows on Hulu also are distributed on AOL, Fancast.com, MSN, MySpace, and Yahoo, which gives it a wider audience potential. There also are sports shows coming thanks to a partnership with the NBA and the NHL, which should get even more oomph with the guy factor.

Hulu might also have a good sales pitch for the enterprise. There is nothing stopping a corporation from using Hulu as a platform for infotainment or custom broadcasting. As long as it's sectioned off from the rest of the commercial venues, I think viewers will respond. One of the more heavily visited sections during the beta test was the Super Bowl advertisement section.

But before you rush off and make a company pitch video and try to partner with Hulu, you might want to make sure it's within your company's mission statement. Not to mention that the ad revenue should outweigh the costs of production. This leads me to my next thought.

Why I think Hulu won't work: It's too much like television. The format is too much like regular broadcast TV, which was based on broadcast radio, which was based on vaudeville. I hate commercial interruptions and the site is rife with them -- even in some awkward places -- such as during an older program when sponsor breaks were not as abundant.

And what Hulu won't do (at least not at the moment): Make you feel like you are experiencing something different.

If there was one thing I can recommend for broadcasters migrating to the Web ... treat it like the Web. Make it interactive, which means letting the viewer take some creative control. Make advertising less intrusive. Get more feedback from the audience response and try to find another way to triangulate viewer likes and dislikes. And please, this insatiable quest for leads has got to stop.

Still, the studios are patting themselves on the back with Hulu. And with good reason.

Advertisers spend "billions of dollars getting the right ad in front of the right person," Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told Reuters this week, noting that sites like Hulu give sponsors lots of interactive options. McQuivey added, "From the advertisers' perspective, it can't get any better."

Perhaps the Writer's Guild should have held out for more money.

Apparently, you can choose the Nissan commercial you want. Sorry, no ... I'll just click over to something else while I'm waiting.

There are ways around ads. Slingbox will let you access anything you can view at home, on most any device (read: BlackBerry) and in high definition. Hulu also is offering some high-def content, but mostly trailers at this point. Apple's iTunes store allows for high-quality content without commercials, but those shows and movies you do pay for are stored locally.

So certainly, Hulu isn't the end of the line for the future of online video. If it is, I may just dig my VCR out of the closet.

What's your take on television trying to break into the Web? Post a comment below. Call now, operators are standing by.

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