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Hulu Hands-On Review in One Word: Brilliant

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This morning, between fielding phone calls, answering emails and writing blog posts, I have been watching TV, a lot of TV…on Hulu, the new online video portal backed by NBC (GE), News Corp. (NWS) and $100 million in funding from Providence Equity Partners.

Before I go any further, a mea culpa: I mocked the service, and its backers, all through the summer. From the moment I learned about the new company, I was skeptical. And now, after spending three hours or so on the service, I am ready to eat crow. And not just any crow, but rotten, six-month-old crow: I have never been more wrong.

Now to my first impressions: This is an awesome service, one that worked flawlessly on my Macbook Pro and ThinkPad T61 without a hitch. The quality of the video shows is good enough to enjoy without straining the eyes, and even in the full-screen mode, the Flash video looks pretty amazing.

As Liz had noted yesterday, the site is clean, sparse and well laid out, taking a cue from the on-the-air (old TV) roots of its parents. And I can use this service to catch up on all the episodes of “Scrubs” I’ve missed.

Hulu doesn’t seem like a YouTube (GOOG) competitor. (This is yet another thing I was wrong about.) What it really is trying to do is time shift — and place shift — television on a massive scale. It’s basically an attempt to counterbalance the tight control that cable and satellite networks have over distribution.

It’s the kind of service that should scare startups trying to develop their own distribution platforms, such as Joost. It is also the kind of service, if it can attract enough viewers, that could succeed in relegating YouTube and others like YouTube to the “user-generated content” world, at least in the U.S. market. The social media features alone, such as sharing, are good enough to get Hulu some traction. I loved the ease with which you can create short, embeddable clips from full-length TV episodes, and the slider-based clip-and-share feature is pretty awesome.

Hulu has a long way to go before it can claim an audience as large as YouTube’s, and no one knows how much pressure it will face from its distribution partners, such as the cable companies. There are already rumblings about the draconian terms of service, and it’s unfortunate that its big media parents are restricting the site to web-based streaming and expiration dates for fresh episodes of new shows. But I think that when the beta becomes publicly available, you are going to be pleasantly surprised. For once, I am happy to be wrong.

53 Responses to “Hulu Hands-On Review in One Word: Brilliant”

  1. No one should be surprised that Hulu is geo-restricted to the US. In most cases the “International” departments of Fox and NBC Universal have already licensed out exclusive rights to other companies for other territories.

    But if Hulu takes off domestically, wouldn’t the next logical step be to roll out various national versions with different programming based on what’s cleared for each region, probably including TV networks and content specific to those regions? If I were running Hulu, I’d have a rollout of,, etc. mapped out for ’09 or so.

    I understand the frustrations of TV fans in other countries, but it’s hardly fair to beat up Hulu for not having their worldwide strategy ironed out while still in early beta.


  2. How cool would this be if they didn’t have Heroes episodes in there. I mean that show could make my websites awesome.

    And I can already view Heroes at, or better yet, Netflix.

    We’ll see when I get an invite, etc. It’s probably pretty awesome. I don’t have cable TV and have been watching a lot of TV online lately. I’m excited about Hulu because it will put a lot of the stuff I watch all on one site. But then I’m not so excited about the 5-week time limits or whatever. Not cool.

  3. Hello.

    I just read news about Hulu on Mashable and was surprised to see that they weren’t so happy, or they weren’t as happy as Mr. Malik. They kept on having some problems with the service… One can ponder about the 3 questions they have listed there:
    1. Is the service cool?
    2. Cool enough to beat YouTube?
    3. Was it worth it for NBC to remove their content from YouTube and iTunes?

    Anyways, in my opinion, this tech. of streaming videos, whether it be YouTube or Hulu, is a bit wrong. (Quality problems, viewport size problems, and so on).

  4. Om,

    I have a slight correction to your comment above. Move Networks is providing an alternative to Flash video. thePlatform’s media publishing system actually supports both Flash video and Move Networks video. It’s up to our customers like Hulu to pick the best format for their content.

  5. tonyleachsf

    I’d guess people will use this as they use or (which I’ve been surprised with the quality of). A cable replacement so they don’t have to pay for cable and get what they want via network sites or iTunes.

    And anyone can plug their computer (I use a mac mini) into their TV for nice big-screen viewing pleasure.

  6. They’re clearly two different services, that said, I completely agree with the notion that most Youtube users only go there for premium content. Very few users are on Youtube for user-generated content.

  7. I think the arguments about embeds that vanish and limited archives are quite valid and i think that is a challenge that hulu would have to overcome. I think they will have to basically follow the daily show with jon stewart approach and start archiving the entire seasons.

    Given that they are in beta, one should give them benefit of the doubt. Obviously they will have to address many of the issues that all of you have brought up in this thread.

  8. “Unfortunately this video is not currently available in your country or region”

    It’s interesting to think through what this means. At one level it’s the balkanization of the internet – for China it’s politics for the US it’s entertainment – but the effect is the same – a stifling of dialogue, creative and opportunities to monetize.

    At another it may lead to a shift in value to content creators & distributors from other parts of the world who gain local audiences due to Hulu’s restricted access regulations and gain again from the take down notices to competing video services that make Hulu the only source for content on its service – removing audience competition world wide.

    No matter how you slice it, good content, as long as its not on Hulu, will be easier for a couple of billion people to find.

  9. “Hulu has a long way to go before it can claim an audience as large as YouTube’s”

    what? do you really think it’s possible to get as big as youtube with an us-only audience?
    come on.
    It really astonishes me lately how ignorant us-techbloggers are towards the stuff happening outside the US. (no one of you knows what happened with flickrs launch of its german version and that yahoo since then is done when it comes to the german bloggers)

    most of you don’t seem to realise how international the audience on the big sites really is. most of the illegal uploading on sites like youtube, stage6, dailymotion and so on will keep going on as same as bittorrenting the tv-shows, because: there is no over way of getting hold of it otherwise. so no matter how big hulu will get within the us, it won’t be big on the web. the world wide web. THAT is the biggest mistake done with hulu which overwise might be decent.

    anyway who is going to blog and embedd scenes then they’re going to disappear after a certain while??

  10. So the big question regarding Hulu is… will you use it? Does anyone plan to watch Hulu as often as you watch YouTube or Om TV? Personally, I have DVR through my cable provider. I can watch pretty much anything I want to watch from regular television. I do love the ability to send or embed clips, that has to have huge potential. But I don’t know that I’d go through the trouble of loading Hulu up just for that.

  11. Lets see, I can’t use the content to go on my cell phone, I can’t see episodes that are older then 5 weeks, I can’t visit the site if I happen to live outside the US, I can’t watch the content on my TV, I can’t see the shows on sites I already use because hulu is issuing take down notices, I can’t fast forward through the ads like I can on a DVR, and I can’t find any user generated content on the service.

    I’m sorry OM, but I disagree with you on this one, I don’t see anything “brilliant” about this. I want to get legal video content online as much as the next guy, but this is the wrong way for them to go about doing it. Video on the web is about increasing the ways in which you can consume media content, not restricting it. Unless Hulu wants to open up, it still won’t be able to compete with the p2p systems.

  12. My biggest concern with Hulu is if the following is true: “As another general rule, Hulu will keep distributing TV shows until five weeks of newer episodes have passed, at which point older shows will presumably just disappear from the site.” (From TechCrunch’s review)

    If that’s true, this isn’t going to be striking much of a blow to anybody, YouTube or Joost.

    I remember a lot of complaints with Comedy Central’s Motherload player for doing this…embedding a video is great, but after just a few weeks it won’t work anymore and they remove it from their site. At a time when people can find all kinds of old blog posts via search engines, this kind of behavior is frustrating. Comedy Central showed it understood that a week ago when they launched to permanently host clips from the 9 years the show has been running.

    Basically if there’s some kind of time restriction on the availability of content, I don’t see it seriously threatening competing services in the long term.

  13. Om

    Spent some time at Hulu today, and wanted to suggest you compare the picture quality against what ABC is doing. Hulu hasn’t yet told me the bit rate, but there’s a visible difference in quality. ABC is going out at 1.9 for shows like Lost.

  14. Joe and Patrick,

    I can’t argue on the issue of how YouTube became what it has now, but I think once you use Hulu, you would see that they are not trying to compete with YT but carving out their own space, and have done a good job.

    YT will clearly take a hit, but how big a hit it will be, not quite sure just yet. They need to move aggressively to fill the gaps. I think going after niche legit content is a way forward for them.

  15. Agree with Patrick and joe schmoe. YouTube only became popular from premium content. I’ve been saying forever that once the premium content owners get a clue and take control and distribute their content on their terms, youtube will begin a slow-but-steady downward sprial. If they had done this 2 years ago, youtube would be worthless today. Google likes to say youtube is video sharing, but it’s largely video pirating and hulu is the beginning of the end for its dominance. Not that youtube will go away – it just won’t matter much any more.

  16. joe shmoe

    @Patrick: Completely agree. I wonder why folks think this is not a youtube competitor — youtube became what it is today due to premium content; pull that off and you’d see a sharp decline in the viewership. So yes Hulu is an indirect competitor that will pull crowds off from Youtube faster than you think.

    And yes, it will still remain big (and be tagged) as the user-generated videos site — which has no meaningful optimization. I think Google has very stupidly cornered itself on its senseless pride this time around.

  17. I’m sure a substantial amount of YouTube’s traffic comes from movie trailers, TV episodes, and TV/movie clips. If Hulu is as great as you describe, it wouldn’t be long before the entertainment companies start moving their content to Hulu and aggressively issuing takedown notices to YouTube. That would be a huge blow to YouTube’s claims to hosting legitimate content from industry and greatly decrease the content signal-noise ratio.