When News Corp and NBC Universal partnered to launch their own video distribution portal many thought the odd couple partnership amongst two TV rivals would be little more than an expensive joke. These weren’t companies known for building technology. Nor were these companies, or their brethren in traditional media, known for playing well in the sandbox with each other. The pairing seemed so unlikely many began deriding the then unnamed company with the name: “Clown Co.”
In August, the jokes got cruder when the company sold a 10% stake to Private Equity firm Providence Equity Partners. The deal valued them, an unlaunched, non-public company at a billion dollars. “Clown Co. indeed” many thought. But come October when the newly named Hulu site launched to a limited beta audience the views on the joint venture began to change. Much to the surprise of many, the site was well designed. The video player was efficient, even elegant. Most importantly, it worked. The content library wasn’t bad either (though that was the one thing expected). Some started saying it could be a “killer app.”
Over the last 18 weeks, modifications were made (including support for HD) and the Hulu site was slowly scaled to handle increasingly larger audiences. Now, today, Hulu will meet the world in an official launch.
To support the debut, the content library has been newly stocked. Audiences will find full length episodes from more than 250 TV series. There will also be as many as 100 feature length films, none edited for content, and clips from another 150 TV shows. A good portion of the programming is from the site’s owners, a mix which includes the assorted cable and film properties of both News Corp and NBCU: that is more than 15 cable networks (FX, USA, Bravo, Sci Fi, Oxygen etc), four film studios (MGM, Sony, Fox and Universal), and two major network stations (NBC and Fox). There is an equally substantial component licensed from other owners. Warner Brothers TV, Lionsgate, Vuguru, the NBA, the NHL, Sony and MGM are all participating. (Disney and CBS are still negotiating).
As a service Hulu is free but ad-supported. Similar to traditional TV, viewers will have to watch a few ads to view the programs. Two formats are being used. One is similar to a standard TV ad program. It will display a small number of ads before or during the programming. Taking advantage of the internet’s interactivity, some of these may also include a component that prompts a viewer to choose which of several ads they’d prefer to watch. (e.g. Do you want to watch the ad for Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder or the Happy Meal). A second ad format will show a two to three minute commercial. Once it ends, the rest of the program will be shown commercial free.
As has been the case since the beta testing phase, viewers watch the videos through a flash application in their browser. The good news is: there is no software to download and the flash-based player is very well designed. Better news, they won’t need to go to the Hulu site either. One of the novelties of Hulu is that their content (and player) can be embedded elsewhere. According to CEO Jason Kilar, during the beta period Hulu videos were embedded more than 50,000 times on more than 5,000 websites. The site was also able to ramp up to support more than 5m views.
So now finally public, Hulu will go before its jury. The Clown Co moniker has been shed but any bit of that reputation remaining will be up for referendum. Will people clamor for a high end web video distributor? Will the content be their pied piper?
I’m guessing, if the sites servers scale to handle the increased traffic, if the content library remains stable, and if the insistence on a proprietary player doesn’t hamper their growth, it will probably be well received among Internet audiences.
(As for the “killer app,” I don’t think that title will fit until this level of on-demand service can be conveniently and simply enjoyed through my TV).
•Hulu in HD
•Hulu Rolls into Beta
•What’s in a name: NBC/News Corp Joint Venture re-named Hulu
•Hulu takes $100m Private Equity Investment
•Jason Kilar Signs as Hulu CEO (external)
•The Hulu Blog (external)
•Kangaroo Project: BBC and Rivals Unite to Build There own Video Site
Editors Note: when originally posted this article described Hulu’s web interface as a “proprietary player.” Some thought that phrasing suggested Hulu might be powered by an application similar to a Windows Media Player or some other software program a viewer would have to download. That’s not the case. Hulu streams are shown on a flash-based browser application. The language of the original post has been edited to remove any confusion.