Hulu doesn’t suck: Is that success?

by Mathew on October 29, 2008 · 10 comments

Lots of talk about Hulu, the video portal from NBC and News Corp. that is celebrating its first birthday. Brian Stelter has a great piece in the New York Times about the site, and how it has succeeded in part by not plastering everything with ads (a lesson I sincerely hope others take to heart as well). I have to admit that like Mike Arrington at TechCrunch, I was — how can I put this delicately — somewhat skeptical of Hulu’s chances. Not surprising really, given how the major networks (yes, I’m looking at you, CBS) had screwed things up royally with online video.

And yet, Hulu arrived and it didn’t suck. It has a nice interface, it shows pretty good quality video in a nice wide player, and it lets you pause and even embed video. It’s not available outside the United States, of course, but there are ways of getting around those restrictions if you really want to. There’s lots of great content on Hulu too, including some of my favourite old TV shows like Time Tunnel and I Dream of Jeannie and whatnot. So all in all, it’s done pretty well for itself — and it has the numbers to prove it (although not enough for Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee).

At the same time though, I must admit that something bothers me about Hulu (and not just that as a Canadian, I have to jump through a bunch of hoops just to watch something on it). Andrew Baron, the founder of the online video show Rocketboom, came close to the mark with some comments he made on a Yahoo group recently in a discussion about Revision3 and some of the cutbacks they’ve made in new shows. I think what bothers me about Hulu is the same thing that bothered me about Joost: namely, the fact that all the content is… well, it’s just TV on the Web. Where’s the fun in that?

I mean, I like being able to watch or embed that hilarious episode of Saturday Night Live — which seems to have turned off the geo-blocking, since I’ve embedded one in this post — or a clip from South Park, or whatever. But apart from the ability to embed it somewhere else (which I admit is a huge step for a network to take with its content) there’s very little you can do with it. And there’s nothing else but content from major networks and studios — no related content from elsewhere, no uploading allowed, no way to get anything *into* Hulu at all. Maybe I’m just hard to please.

  • http://saila.com/ Craig Saila

    Hulu is simply on-demand mainstream TV.

    And it happens to be served on the Web.

    The clipping and embedding features, I believe, are a nod to the established practices of the other sites. None of the social features (from ratings to comments to clips) are add much value, and I'm pretty confident that's not 100% by mistake.

    Hulu has become, shockingly quickly, the way I watch most TV shows these days.

    And I like it.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Don't get me wrong, Craig — I like it too (even if I have to use a bunch of hacks to get there). And I think it's good, in the same way that a PVR is good. I just think it could be … more.

  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    I'm not a huge Hulu fan – but I do think this adage applies: content is king. That trumps any social media “innovation” over the past few years, like user generated content and social networking. Meaning, there's certainly a large portion of the population that just wants to passively consume cool content with the least amount of work possible. They will never pick up a video camera, blog, or upload their own videos. Those people will use Hulu, and I daresay it's the large majority of the population.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think you are probably right, Jason — that's certainly the rationale behind most mainstream entertainment :-)

  • Gilliebee

    Mathew — what are the hoops you can go through, as a cdn, to watch Hulu. I have been frustrated in the past… although mostly found what I was looking for, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on YouTube

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I've tried a bunch of different anonymous proxy tools and software, but the one I use right now is called Hotspot Shield, from a company called AnchorFree. It's actually designed for secure surfing over wireless, but it basically sets up a secure VPN connection through AnchorFree's proxy servers.

  • Gilliebee

    Thanks!

  • Gilliebee

    Mathew — what are the hoops you can go through, as a cdn, to watch Hulu. I have been frustrated in the past… although mostly found what I was looking for, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on YouTube

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I've tried a bunch of different anonymous proxy tools and software, but the one I use right now is called Hotspot Shield, from a company called AnchorFree. It's actually designed for secure surfing over wireless, but it basically sets up a secure VPN connection through AnchorFree's proxy servers.

  • Gilliebee

    Thanks!

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