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Summary:

Backstory: Hulu and Embeds Before Hulu even had a name or its current management team, it had distribution partners: AOL, MSN, MySpace, Yahoo. All along, one of Hulu’s most distinctive and friendly features has been that all its content is embeddable. Since everything was embeddable even […]

Backstory: Hulu and Embeds
Before Hulu even had a name or its current management team, it had distribution partners: AOL, MSN, MySpace, Yahoo.
All along, one of Hulu’s most distinctive and friendly features has been that all its content is embeddable.
Since everything was embeddable even when Hulu was in private beta, a few enterprising folks recreated the site out in the open for public viewing. Hulu shut them down.
Hulu’s official partners use its embeds; they don’t re-host the content in their own video players.
Hulu content was removed from TV.com when the CBS-owned site was relaunched as a TV aggregator.

Two-year-old Hulu, which has quickly become Americans’ preferred method of consuming TV online, is now blocking startups from embedding its video library. But while Hulu is now (mostly) unfriendly to startup video aggregators, it’s still sharing its videos with its corporate parents’ friends: the big web portals and MSOs. Put together, the retroactive and inconsistent nature of a recent spate of nastygrams shows the site is feeling insecure.

Over the weekend, Hulu demanded that a newly launched video discovery startup called Rippol stop embedding all its shows. Hulu told Rippol that it can link to its full library, but not embed the videos. Rippol tells us it will comply, and replace the Hulu embeds where it can from network sites like NBC.com and Fox.com.

Rippol competitor Yidio also tells us Hulu commanded it to stop embedding, and video search site CastTV says it has also recently changed to make users click through to watch Hulu. Meanwhile, video guide Clicker declined to comment, but we’ve seen that over the last two months it’s swapped out Hulu embeds for TV network embeds as well.

While some of Hulu’s moves — keeping its content out of the living room by blocking Boxee, taking down back episodes of shows — are clearly at the behest of the content companies who control the company, this one seems different. What’s happening here is that Hulu thinks Rippol and the rest are competitors, and is scared to lose its edge as a video aggregator. Because while Hulu does host a whole lot of premium content, it doesn’t own it; the value it adds is limited to the way it presents shows. And that isn’t enough.

What Hulu could do is set up an affiliate relationship business like iTunes and Amazon. If someone sends a viewer to your content and advertising, in theory everybody wins. Startups can slice and dice revenue just like big established web portals. However Hulu told Rippol it is only “very selectively” choosing companies for “structured distribution relationship[s]” — the kind it has with AOL and Yahoo. If you’re a little startup, you’re mostly limited to linking to content through Hulu’s site map feed.

The door to Hulu embeds is still open to sites from traditional TV distributors. New sites from major players like Echostar’s Sling.com and AT&T’s AT&T Entertainment seem to be able to get official Hulu embeds (click the links to see examples).

And some startups still have embed access too. Veoh, which has long featured Hulu content sans partnership, still has a live embed library up and running, as does Prime Time Rewind (though both appear to be using the user embed code, not the slightly different partner player). And Watercooler, which creates social experiences around TV and got a deal to embed Hulu content last year, still has its authorized library available.

Watercooler CEO Kevin Chou said this morning that his site has official access to a “fairly comprehensive” selection of Hulu content. “I think Hulu doesn’t view us as a competitor. We have a large audience and a community that’s really there for the community aspects of what we build.”

To be fair to Hulu’s side of the story, embedding video is one of the more powerful ways to move content around the web. An embed often carries in-video ads and a link back to the site that hosts it. However, people who embed videos often profit from attracting viewers to their pages. And when you’re helping someone else make money, it’s only natural to want to take a cut. In a similar vein, the Dutch music rights association Buma/Stemra announced next year it will charge bloggers and video collection sites like Yubby a fee of 130 Euros for every six videos they embed (it later said “amateur” bloggers were exempt).

But what Hulu is doing with embeds seems random and protectionist, and out of character with the web-savvy reputation the wunderkind has built. The fact is, all the TV network sites seem to be just fine with aggregators like Rippol and Clicker embedding their libraries. At a time when Hulu is under pressure from its corporate parents to muck around with its model so they can make more money, it should remember that its biggest allies are on the web.

  1. Hulu is controlled by big old TV monopolies. They do not want to see webTV replace their monopoly with a system where people watch all other types of sources instead of the ads of those big TV monopolies.

    They do not want people to watch Hulu on a TV, not easily. They block all attempts at bringing Hulu on the TV, especially blocking HDTV.

    Embedding is not suitable for them, they want full control and they want to control the speed in which the big transition to Video-on-demand happens. A more popular Hulu is not necessarily good for them.

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  2. @Charbax. If you asked them last year I think popularity was the goal.

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  3. Right – I think popularity still is their goal, but the folks at Hulu must be realizing at some point that they have to have some above and beyond measures and controls in order to create continued relevance to the content producers. They aren’t striking up original content on their own – they’re a platform pure and simple.

    With that logic it would make sense to see them fight to have their content viewed in the best circumstances possible for them. I did like the affiliate approach, but what happens when niche curators pop up featuring specific content for a specific audience? They grow on Hulu’s back (and dollars) and then those niche content producers can strike far more lucrative and focused one-off deals with those platforms/sites. Hulu can’t afford this risk – no matter how large they appear. As much as it pains me to not have them on Boxee this makes sense for now.

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  4. [...] Rippol competitor Yidio also tells us Hulu commanded it to stop embedding, and video search site CastTV says it has also recently changed to make users click through to watch Hulu. Meanwhile, video guide Clicker declined to comment, but we’ve seen that over the last two months it’s swapped out Hulu embeds for TV network embeds as well. Continue reading the full post at NewTeeVee. [...]

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  6. EchoStar and Comcast have business relationships with Hulu, which is different than just running content on your own site. If they were monetizing well, I doubt this would be an issue. But their takedown approach suggests to me they can’t sell enough video ads and need to focus on building their brand and hulu.com traffic until they can.

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  7. I agree with Charbax, clearly this is a case of the big old monopolies fearing the Frankenstein that they’ve created. This is an industry that has always insisted on control even to their detriment. They can place whatever safeguards into place that they want, but at the end of the day consumers will just pirate their content if they make things too tough. The days of fighting online distribution should be long past, but they’re still clinging to the old business model even when they should be racing at a breakneck speed for market share of an emerging industry. At least they’ve got the politicians paid off, so that they can get new regulations passed once they realize that their restrictions were really a mistake.

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  8. You all miss the point. If you embed myHulu video, you use their content and bandwidth, and all they get is a few shrt cheap ads. You get to wrap as many ads around it that you want, plus when the video is over, the viewer stays at your site, not Hulu’s.
    Hulu pays the rights fees, does the heavy lifting, while you skim off the cream and dilute their brand. It’s easy to see why Hulu doesn’t like it.

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  9. Better than what Google did to sites that embed youtube in bulk. eg
    http://traffic.alexa.com/graph?&w=400&h=220&o=f&c=1&y=r&b=ffffff&r=6m&u=truveo.com&

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  10. @altrenda gets it. What’s needed is a better way to monetize embeds. Stay tuned…

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