Hulu Gears up for Launch

With “hundreds of thousands” of users in its private beta and three times the amount of content it had at launch, Hulu is readying itself to open to the public in the next two months.

Hulu CTO Eric Feng stopped by NewTeeVee HQ this week and shared a progress check as well as some forward-looking thoughts on the product he’s been building since last summer, when Hulu acquired his video markup company Mojiti.

Chris and I were particularly interested to hear about Hulu’s engagement figures. Feng said users are spending more than half an hour on the service at a time, and they appear to be more interested in full-length shows than clips. More than 80 percent of the entire Hulu catalog is watched each week, he said.

Hulu does want to internationalize — Feng more than anyone, as he manages half his engineering team in Beijing — but is concerned that the site can only get authorization to show foreign users a small portion of content. In the meantime, Hulu is improving flexibility in other areas. Whole seasons of ongoing shows like 30 Rock are now available instead of the “five-week trailing” limitations (meaning older episodes would expire) the site started with.

Feng said the writers’ strike has been a double-edged sword for Hulu: fresh video is harder to find, but the demand for archived shows has spiked. Speaking of which, Feng noted that the Sony TV catalog — a deal that was struck just as Hulu was beta-launching — just recently started coming online. Just in case you’d forgotten Who’s the Boss.

Feng seemed more pleased than not with efforts by outsiders to replicate the Hulu library using its embeddable player. “People have gotten really creative because there’s demand for the service that we can’t meet and I think that’s exciting,” he said. Still, Hulu sent a cease-and-desist letter to OpenHulu, and said that Veoh was breaking its terms of use. One interesting potential extension of Hulu’s official partner program: The company is considering making a self-service model for its player so that a fan site for the Office, for example, could embed the entire library of the show.

In the video embedded above Feng talks about Hulu’s efforts to improve the quality of its service, as well as how the company hopes to get it on platforms beyond the PC browser. (For some reason I got all soft-voiced when we were taping, so I added subtitles to ease the strain on your ears.)

First five people to comment on our lovely new office backdrop (or hey, the substance of the interview) get a Hulu invite. Newsflash: Hulu is actually giving NewTeeVee/GigaOM readers 2000 more beta invites. Apparently they’re looking for more early adopter folks to come in and watch sci-fi shows and make feature requests for nerdy things like RSS feeds. Just kidding! Though if you want The Hills you’ll have to go to Joost. For Hulu, go here.

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