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Nothing But Net: Can You Do The Hulu?

I start my mornings the same every day: I roll out of bed at 7:30 a.m. and brush my teeth (I use Crest Pro-Health Night Toothpaste for my morning and evening brushes. Do they really expect people to buy two different toothpastes depending on the time of day? How about instead of segmenting products you guys figure out how to remove the air bubbles in every single tube of toothpaste?). I make two over-light eggs with a piece of whole wheat toast. And I watch something on Hulu. An episode of Family Guy, some classic skits from Saturday Night Live, re-runs of The Colbert Report when it goes on break—anything really.

Hulu is a beacon of LED lights in a very muddled and cloudy world of Internet-based video streaming websites. It has content from three of the four major networks—ABC, NBC and Fox—and plenty of smaller channels—USA, AMC, FX—with more than 200 providers filling its menus. It has new episodes and old episodes. It has entire movies.


Hulu was founded in March of 2007, just a year and a half after iTunes made itself the only kid on the block selling video online. A year later the site exited a private beta and became available for all.

Success hasn’t come overnight, but it has come: Hulu served 912 million videos in February of this year according to comScore, a company that measures online audiences. That’s good enough for second place, behind Google’s network of sites—mainly YouTube—which delivered almost 12 billion. But at least 10 of those 12 billion are probably videos of cats attacking Roombas and teenagers crying about Justin Bieber.

Hulu’s place in the online media consumption ecosystem is an important one. The site is turning a profit regularly through ads, both displayed on the site and shown at intervals during videos, and as much as 70 percent of that goes to the content providers. It’s no secret media companies, whether they be music, movie or news, are at odds with digital forms of distribution. Apple was the first to begin fighting the battle when iTunes started selling music. They’ve by and large paved the way for digital distribution to be sold. As Hulu continues to grow, ink new partnership deals and expand to other outlets, it might soon find itself waging a similar war with TV and movie studios, but with no money being exchanged directly between it and the studios—that needs to come from advertisers—the battle could be much more difficult.

(Yes, Apple and iTunes are fighting with TV and movie studios as well, but their distribution model hinges on paying to access content, not viewing ads, so we’ll ignore it.)

With all that said, Hulu needs some work. And with viewership at an all-time high and profits even being made, now is the time. Here’s what Hulu needs to do (*Stands on soapbox*):

Archives And not the crap on the site now. Hulu used to keep very healthy archives. Then they moved to the five most recent episodes of a given show. Now they keep five random episodes. Not based on rating or ABC order or any metric I can discern. “Sounds like a lot of work for free!” you scoff. Well not if they have a…

Subscription Model Keep the existing Hulu setup—five episodes of a given show chosen by a Ouija board—but add a subscription service for those willing to pay. Why not? Any expense incurred is going to be recouped. There were talks about such an option first last year and again earlier this year. “But what features would I get for my monthly fee?!” you posit. Well for starters how about…

Higher Resolution Streaming The term “1080p” gets tossed around often these days, but most people have no clue what it means (1080 lines of resolution, progressively scanned). It’s the optimal display of HD content. Hulu plays video at 360p and 480p, otherwise known as ugly and slightly-less-than ugly, respectively. For a time the site offered 720p, which is a noticeable step up, but canned the feature. “I can’t see any difference between HD and my 50-year-old TV set!” you and my dad claim. OK, then how about Hulu move off the computer with…

Apps Mobile applications are huge. HUGE. They’re affordable to design and can make massive sums of money. And while all platforms should get a Hulu app, I’m going to go ahead and point to the one that should get it first—the iPhone OS. At Apple’s recent press event, Steve Jobs revealed they’d sold 85 million iPhone and iPod Touch devices. That’s 85 million places to put a Hulu app. While they’re at it, ABC’s iPad app is kicking ass, and that 9.7-inch screen is begging for some loving. “Well…these seem like good ideas!” you admit. Yes, yes they do.

I’m rooting for Hulu and I think you should too: Its success means that column I wrote in early March about abandoning Cablevision is that much more feasible.

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Twitter Integration NO. DO NOT DO THIS. There’s a TV made by Samsung that displays tweets across the bottom of the screen, amounting to what is the worst ticker tape of all time. Combining TV and Twitter is not means to multitask, it’s means to go postal.

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