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Summary:

Hulu content won’t play on Google TV devices – or will it? A new hack that makes it possible to view Hulu videos on Android phones with Android 2.2 and Flash 10.1 raises more questions about the viability of content restrictions for the Google TV platform.

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Hulu videos can be viewed on any Android phone with Android 2.2 and Flash 10.1, Absolutely Android reported this weekend. Hulu blocks mobile phones for licensing reasons, but the trick to get them to play on Android handsets is actually pretty simple: Users just have to change the user agent setting of the phone’s Chrome web browser to make it think the phone is a desktop computer, and Hulu’s videos will start playing on the phones with no problem.

That’s a nice trick for Nexus One owners trying to catch the Lost series finale on the go, but the revelation also points to something much bigger: Hulu videos will inevitably find their way onto the Google TV platform when it launches this fall, and Hulu won’t be happy about it. In fact, the site’s corporate overlords could force it into an all-out war on over-the-top streaming devices, and the results could hurt both Hulu and Google.

Don’t believe me? Then consider this: Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra did a search for House when he demoed the platform at the company’s developers conference last week. The search results clearly included episodes from Hulu. However, he didn’t demonstrate Hulu streaming and instead proceeded to watch a trailer from Amazon.com’s VOD platform.

Google’s VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra didn’t really want to say whether Hulu runs on Google TV. Technically it would be capable to, he said during an I/O press conference, but the ultimate decision would have to be made by the content owner. In other words: Google would like to play Hulu content on the Google TV, but it can’t promise that it will work. Hulu didn’t comment on whether it will play on Google TV or not when contacted by us.

Of course, that’s very similar to the issues Boxee dealt with a year ago when Hulu decided to lock out Boxee users. The difference is that Google TV is an open source operating system, capable of running a whole bunch of code that goes far beyond of what’s possible with Boxee.

Not only does the most recent version of Chrome for Android allow users to switch user agents, which means they’re essentially pretending to access a web site with a different browser and device, there’s also a number of third-party browsers that have been supporting this functionality for a while. In fact, there are even dedicated Android tools to mask the identity of your device. Many of these apps should run on Google TV out of the box, and one can be certain the developers will come up with new ways to extend the platform and in turn play Hulu videos.

Hulu will likely respond by stepping up the security cat-and-mouse game, which will result in developers coming up with even better ways to circumvent these roadblocks. Who will win? I think it’s too early to tell. It’s been more than a year since Hulu first went after Boxee, and Boxee’s users can still access the site’s content through the application’s integrated browser. Hulu eventually could get the upper hand by relying on Flash security, but that would mean to permanently lock itself out of HTML5, while other are starting to innovate with it.

Google and its partners on the other hand could have a hard time selling Google TV to consumers if their answer to “will this play Hulu” is “maybe it will, maybe it won’t.”

The solution would obviously be to make peace before the war starts. Hulu and its owners should give up on the notion that content is allowed to play on a 27″ screen, but not on a 32″ screen, and Google could help to make this happen by offering some insights into its plans for advertising on Google TV. Once the money is on the table, people will talk. But expect some more shots to be fired before that happens.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nevada Tumbleweed.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Google Takes the Open Battle to Apple on Multiple Fronts (subscription required)

  1. Hulu on Android Foreshadows Google TV War (Janko Roettgers/NewTeeVee) « My Blog Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    [...] Roettgers / NewTeeVee: Hulu on Android Foreshadows Google TV War  —  Hulu videos can be viewed on any Android phone with Android 2.2 and Flash 10.1, [...]

  2. To be honest, who cares about Hulu anyway — they only serve the 350+ million US market (plus those few, who know how to use a US proxy ;). I’m sure, Google TV will be a huge hit outside the US, which is a much bigger market.

    1. You answered your own question. The 350+ million US market. You do realize as far as legit video watching options go for current TV, Hulu is probably hands down the best in the US? I’m actually not even sure what would be considered a close 2nd for current TV (not counting netflix in other words) to fill such a role.

      1. What percentage of that 350+ million Americans really watch Hulu? It is extremely unrealistic to think that people may not buy Google TV just cuz they can’t watch Hulu on it.

  3. PostItChild Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Google TV combines two commonly used consumer technologies, TV and search, into a can’t miss new product.

    Could this be the next Picturephone, which combined TV and the telephone almost 50 years ago at the AT&T pavilion at the 1964 NY World’s Fair?

    Here’s a history lesson of which Google might take note:
    http://www.medianewsandviews.com/2010/05/dz_googletv_picturephone

    1. It combines both TV and search together for now. One question, will Google will use Google TV to insert its own ads into content derived from both the web (Hulu, etc) and conventional TV (cable, satellite, etc)? If that’s the case, there will be a holy war by the content producers – the studios/networks, who historically received the revenue from TV ads.

      They need money to produce content. If Google TV takes off and they ‘own’ the ads, will Google pay for the content or become a content producer?

      I realize this is still a long way off and in 10 years, the network/studio/content model will likely be significantly different than today, but the traditional content companies will fight this to the bitter end if Google begins owning the majority of ad revenue. It could get ugly.

  4. It really is pointless for Hulu to block especially as more people just hook up their laptops/netbooks to their TVs using either their browser or Hulu’s desktop app. Why is there a difference to Hulu between a Google TV box and a cheap nettop running a plain vanilla Firefox? What’s next “detecting” that the browser is running on a laptop?

    I can see their beef with Boxee when Boxee was originally “scrapping” their videos but to block hulu.com based on the type of machine a browser is running on is again, pointless.

  5. You’re late to the party. Hulu is now blocking the android version of flash. Supposedly there’s still a way to use Hulu but it involves a rooted N1, uninstalling the official flash from the market and install a special version created just for viewing Hulu…

  6. android is open source and boxee isn’t? Hum…… boxee uses xbmc’s source code that’s GPL and the only thing closed source is boxee’s libboxee.
    But saying one is open source and another is closed source is far from the truth. If anything you could argue that android’s operating system is open source, but almost all of google’s apps running on top of the operating sysem are closed source and will probably remain closed source.

  7. I imagine Hulu will soon roll out their rumored subscription offer and put the majority of top content behind a pay wall. The rest they’ll open up to all devices.

  8. NO such thing as a free lunch folks.

    Either Hulu is going to block and opt out or (if that doesn’t work) it’s going to start charging money and showing alot more ads.

  9. HULU is going subscription.. and they want ad revenue.. I don’t think they will in the end care who watches from where.. AND.. while the people who give them the content might in the long run.. they will be in worse shape if they get into a fight and get locked out of Google TV.

  10. Kylo Issues a Hulu Workaround — But How Long Will It Last? Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    [...] on their mobile devices. Since we first reported on the hack, however, users have commented that it no longer works. All of which leads us to believe that any hack or workaround Kylo rolls out will be [...]

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