I’ve been taking a look around Hulu, the new video website from NBC/Universal and Fox, and have been pleasantly surprised at the ease of use and the depth of content. While the “most popular” list contains clips from “Saturday Night Live” and lots of teen sex comedies, there’s also an archive of true classics.
Not only does Hulu offer clips, but entire movies and TV series you can watch for free, including contemporary shows like “House,” “Heroes,” “Friday Night Lights” and “The Riches.” It also has full episodes of older series from “Kojak” and “The Rockford Files” to “Barney Miller” and “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
Netflix can’t be happy about the competition that Hulu brings. While Netflix offers a “watch now” option via their website, you have to be a paid subscriber to watch their movies online. On Hulu, the content is free, with the option of embedded commercial breaks, or you can sit through a pre-roll ad for a couple of minutes, and then watch the entire movie without interruption .
Similarly, when you watch some clips, you’ll see a sponsor logo pop up, which can be a little distracting. That’s the bargain many people will make, however — a willingness to sit through advertising in order to view copyrighted material (which YouTube and Google Video can’t do), whenever they want, as long as the advertising isn’t too obtrusive and doesn’t take too long.
One advantage Hulu content has over downloading movies via iTunes or Amazon’s Unbox is that you’re under no time pressure. With those services, you have to watch within 24 hours or the content becomes disabled (even though you paid for it). On Hulu, you can return to the movie or other video anytime you like, scroll to wherever you left off, and resume at your leisure. That’s a big plus, and it’s free.
This is part of the new distribution wave for video content, which may soon make the DVD obsolete. But “soon” doesn’t mean this year, because there are a couple of obstacles to overcome.
First, the technology for downloading video online and watching it on the big TV in your living room hasn’t been perfected yet (although Apple TV and similar hardware are a good start). Second, the difference between streaming a movie and watching a DVD is that the latter comes with all sorts of extras — featurettes, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, alternate audio, subtitles, etc. — that add even more to the viewing experience.
Still, Hulu gets the clip mentality just right, and it’s not hard to envision plenty of business people, college students, and others using their broadband connections to watch both short- and long-form content as it streams online.
So far, Hulu, well done. You have developed a new way to monetize existing content with minimal hassle for the user. Now, let’s hope you’re sharing that revenue with the creative people responsible for the content in the first place.