Greg Sandoval at CNET had a story today saying that he heard from a couple of sources close to YouTube that the company will soon be launching full-length movies. This led to a raft of posts echoing the story, most of which mentioned that this seemed like a plausible rumour — since YouTube now offers full-length TV shows from a couple of networks, and also has a “theater” setting that offers a wider viewer and slightly better quality. But only a couple of blogs that mentioned the story raised what I think is the most important issue: Can YouTube’s infrastructure even handle the real-time streaming of full-length movies?
Robert McLaws, for example, mentioned what I think is a pretty routine occurrence for most people when watching YouTube videos, and that’s the “buffering” message (I get that a fair bit even though I have an 8-megabit connection). John Brandon at Computerworld mentioned the crappy quality of most YouTube videos, and Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider noted that YouTube videos aren’t actually streamed, but are downloaded to the user’s computer — meaning they can easily be copied.
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.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter heard about this already, but there’s an interesting story behind the “sequel” video to that famous Wassup commercial that Budweiser came out with eight years ago. Much like BusinessWeek marketing writer Burt Helm, I wondered how the video had come together, and how it came to be a partisan election message for Obama rather than a Budweiser commercial. Unlike me, however, Burt Helm looked into it and discovered that director Charles Stone III (who also directed the movie Drumline) retained the rights to the concept, which he licensed to Budweiser for the original commercial. He made the sequel with some friends and colleagues from the movie business and $6500 of his own money, and in just 4 days it has been seen by 2.4 million people.
In my never-ending quest for strange videos that I find amusing, I came across this clip of John Hodgman — the comedian, author and actor best known as “the PC guy” — and a talk he gave at the last TED conference (I confess that I didn’t unearth this myself; it came, like so many other fascinating things, from a link at Jason Kottke’s blog). It’s kind of about aliens and Enrico Fermi and “lost time” and close encounters, but not really — it’s actually a love story, but one that only John Hodgman could tell. Hodgman’s new book is called More Information Than You Require, and is a sequel of sorts to his first book of largely useless and/or made-up information, which was called The Areas Of My Expertise.
Twine just launched a new version of its personal bookmark-sharing, data aggregation service, and it has some cool features — but I think instead of explaining all of them, and trying to get across what the service is designed to do (hint: it has something to do with the “semantic Web”), the company should have just posted the video I’ve embedded here. A Twine staffer created it as a gag and played it for CEO and founder Nova Spivack as a joke (this is the real video). Here’s a couple of excerpts:
“Look, I know you like a lot of sh*t. So we created this new tool so you could collect that sh*t, and connect with people who like that same sh*t. Twine ties it all together by topic, so you can have all that sh*t in one place and it’s easy to find it, you know what I’m sayin’? When you bookmark an item, our sh*t is so dope, it automatically extracts the title, description and tags from the page — you don’t have to do a damn thing. It’s pretty awesome.”
“Each Twine has a unique email address, so dude, you get some crazy email, you like it so much, you can send that sh*t to Twine directly from your email. You can invite people to Twine who like the same sh*t you do. One more time I’m gonna tell you: We like to help you collect it, we help you share it, and we help you find other sh*t that you like. Get started and use this goddamn thing today. Holla! (Sound of a gunshot).”
Spivack and the employee who created the video — Candice Nobles — both commented on TechCrunch’s post about it, along with a number of humorless people who said it was “in bad taste,” which is ridiculous. Not only is it hilarious, but it actually describes the service pretty well.