Blog Post

Hulu Hands-On Review in One Word: Brilliant

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. Geo restriction applies to Canadians outside the United States which is more advanced socially and mentally compared to others on this planet. The USA is more brash and simple with nukes for hockey pucks..

  2. bagi,

    I’ve heard that it’s only available USA web users. Kinda stupid if you ask me. If I were you I’d download episodes from The Pirate Bay and then email hulu and tell them what extents you need to go to in order to watch your favorite NBC or FOX shows.

  3. Many have posted very good points about Hulu, however, I think that Hulu is going to succeed. People are moving from TV to the PC and the HD quality is comming soon to the internet. It is more convenient to watch the programs online.

  4. ugh. not brilliant. nbc can’t even get their content on their main page to play in firefox. they have what now, 15% share at least? i am not putting much faith in them. it is still easier and more convenient to download a torrent.

  5. Shah Ullah

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    When I first heard about Hulu.com, I knew it was exactly the type of service that would lead people to question whether or not old media conglomerates could actually make an independent impact on the Internet. Although I would have been tempted to agree with most naysayers at the time, one thing stood out to me – the involvement of Providence Equity Partners (I have no affiliation). The firm has an incredible track record in technology, media, & telecom – a space that’s notoriously difficult for private equity firms. With business dynamics that change dramatically with the introduction of new technologies, you really have to have good insight to buy large, established companies and still do well. A quick glance at their investment portfolio also revealed that they own a large chunk of MGM (which also has ownership ties to Sony) and it quickly became clear why NBC/News Corp went to Providence for money.

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    Although the physical distribution is indeed in the hands of the cable companies (and maybe one day Verizon and ATT too), the relationships between content and cable distributors are quite incestuous. This aside, lets remember – content is king. Especially if all the content folk are on one side – and it seems that way with Hulu.com (and with GooTube on the other), if the cable guys get grumpy about Hulu.com, they may not have much say or choice because they rely on the big brand content conglomerates to get subs.

  6. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, You keep using that word brilliant. I do not think it means what you think it means. I think you really mean “doesn’t suck as much as we feared it would.” The service has serious limitations – no downloads, no mobile access, no transfers to portable players or TVs, only five episodes available, ads you can’t skip. Given all of this, it is by definition not brilliant. If NBC addresses these issues, maybe it will be brilliant. Until then, it’s just surprisingly OK for a big media company that is clearly still afraid of the internet and thinks competition and new technology should drive prices up, not down.