Hulu opened itself up to criticism this week by disabling video playback for MyMediaPlayer, the open-source, easy-to-use desktop media player that offers the site its best user interface. Since the player is free, only plays Hulu videos (without messing with ads), and makes a better mobile app than a browser (using Adobe Air), you’d think Hulu would encourage its use. But you’d be wrong. The way Hulu is treating independent apps like this one shows that in some ways, it’s still following the old-media backwards thinking of its backing companies. And they all still have a way to go in understanding the web.
One of Hulu’s biggest breakthroughs was the simplicity of its UI, but after playing with it, there’s no question MyMediaPlayer is a more visually appealing option for finding content. Created by independent developer Paul Yanez (previous coverage), the app takes Hulu’s open RSS feed, with 400 TV shows and 208 movies, and re-sizes them to a logo thumbnail grid view. When you pick a TV show, other episodes are listed below in shorter form, and are also available in classic media center form (see above). Starting yesterday, it’s also packed with Twitter integration, for mid-movie tweets.
In an open letter, Yanez outlined the reasons why Hulu should reconsider the consistent rejection of his player, essentially saying: I’m making your site better so that others can appreciate it as much as I do. So why aren’t you letting us do that? The answer: Hulu — a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp — is understandably spooked by the prospect of getting too successful too quickly, possibly killing off network revenue in an economic climate in which the TV ad market is floundering. That’s why cable companies are looking to act as content aggregators . But crippling useful apps makes little sense.
Hulu’s recent split from Boxee is another example. Boxee software streams media from PCs to TVs; Hulu’s bosses essentially objected to it on grounds it wasn’t the primary mode of consumption they allowed. But their fear that video content will replace TV is already outdated because their stop-gap is easily circumvented. For example, I use a large projector to watch Hulu, and anyone can just plug their laptop to their HDTVs. The only thing hampering this full-blown shift is consumer awareness, not a difference between browser UI quality and media centers.
Hulu should allow apps. After all, we know that Net-based content grows in popularity when users have more options to access content. Bricking useful add-ons alienates people. Twitter didn’t stop ‘outside’ clients like TweetDeck or Summize; its creators understood that apps improved Twitter by giving people different access points to express their thoughts and keep up with others.
I understand Twitter’s main content providers are users and Hulu’s are studios that pay large fees to create original content, but that’s a different fight altogether. Conditional apps that add to a web site without hurting the bottom line should be treated better by these companies if they don’t want to lose out to a competitor. TV.com anyone?