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Hulu’s Plans for the iPad, the Mobile Internet

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From the moment Apple (s AAPL) announced its new iPad mobile device, people have been wondering when (and if) Hulu was going to make a specialized application for it. But Hulu has so far tended towards public generalities and general inaction when it comes to developing for anything but the PC.

Earlier this week, and a day ahead of the iPad launch, I interviewed Hulu CEO Jason Kilar at the DLD Conference in Munich, spending a big portion of our conversation on the mobile web. Of course, Kilar, who graduated from the Jeff Bezos School of Management, and like his former boss plays his cards close to the vest, didn’t reveal anything specific.

However, his comments indicated that Hulu is very seriously thinking about the mobile web, including creating specialist applications for different platforms. More importantly, his brief comments indicate that the second-most popular online video service in the U.S. — YouTube being the first — is not ignoring the big shift to the mobile Internet. “The computer in your pocket is very important,” he said. “Mobile is a monster – we are very bullish. We will embrace any device.”

Of course, Kilar made similar statements way back in 2008, and there have been unsubstantiated rumors of an iPhone app since, but now, in light of the iPad, the rise of Android and the blowout success of the iTunes app store, the timing has never been better for Hulu to launch something for the mobile web.

When I asked Kilar if he was going to make a special version of a Hulu app for the iPad, Kilar said: “We are very big believers in mobile and we don’t think about (just) one device only.” My translation: Expect Hulu to be on multiple platforms such as the iPhone and Android. I would expect the Android version to show up first because it supports Flash, while Apple’s iPhone OS platform doesn’t. If Hulu has to support iPhone OS, it would need to re-encode its videos in order to make them work.

What’s more interesting is that he (and his cohorts at Hulu) think that the two mobile- and PC-centric versions of Hulu can not only coexist but thrive. He went on to add that while mobile is going to be a large component of its business, the company would still get a lot of its revenues and usage from the traditional web browser. “Mobile will always be like a snack channel but never will become the major (revenue) share of our business,” Kilar said.

While that might be true when it comes to the iPhone, the new iPad is a whole new ball of wax — one that Kilar can’t ignore for long. As I said earlier, the iPad is all about media consumption, including videos on Hulu.

Photo by Rodrigo Sepulveda courtesy of DLD Conference via Flickr

23 Responses to “Hulu’s Plans for the iPad, the Mobile Internet”

  1. Since Hulu considers PC to be the largest channel it is planning to exploit, what are the chances of Hulu coming to the Internet enabled TV platforms? So far, due to studio pressure, Hulu is holding back but wouldn’t that be a natural extension of the PC platform? Any thoughts?

    • Not good. They’ve repeatedly blocked Boxee, on purpose, and Fox chairman has been pretty vocal that he considers Boxee to be “stealing” their content. If the STB maker is willing to hack around Hulu then there’s a chance, otherwise, its not going to happen. For now anyway.

  2. I don’t know why online video on a mobile device is such a big deal, I can hardly watch the YouTube videos without jerks and pauses, blame AT&T for it, heck yeah. But then, the services are only as good as the bandwidth pipe that connects the device to the network, which needs to improve, a lot!

  3. I particularly enjoyed reading the comment “Mobile is a monster – we are very bullish.” You can find YouTube apps on every major mobile platform and Hulu on none. However, they are very bullish on mobile. LOL!

    As for Android vs iPhone/iPad I don’t know a single Java developer that wants to do GUI in Java. Once you “get it” with Java GUI development you ask “What a pile of excrement, can’t you re-write this?” Google took that pile and made it even more fun to develop in by not even supporting Java but rather Dalvik. How much harder is Android/Dalvik development than iPhone/iPad? Apparently 14 times as hard (140,000 vs 10,000). :-)

    This in-spite of the fact that Android is “open” and has a market that is spy-ware friendly due to the fact nearly any app can get in. But the iPhone is considered hard to develop for because it uses a proprietary language (Objective-C) and has somehow hired Stalin to run their app acceptance program in a capricious and completely developer unfriendly manner.

    Yet the reality is that Apple’s development environment is so powerful that my Mom could write a Hulu app using it in a month except for one teensy little problem: Hulu’s DRM. I’m sure Hulu’s lawyers would slap her with a DMCA Cease and Desist faster than she could say “Ungrateful bastards!”

    And before anyone trots out that tired Adobe litany about OpenScreen, I have only one question to ask first: where is Flash on my Nexus One? Could Adobe please wait to bash Apple until after they’ve actually shipped Flash for the Nexus One??? Maybe if I could actually watch Hulu on my Nexus One my position about how evil Apple is would soften.

    • Excellent comments all.

      Okay, so Hulu can’t just stream h.264 to the iPad since it doesn’t support DRM. Ditto HTML5. No DRM. So since we figured that out the theory is they’ll do an App since that let’s them have control.

      And of course the ad platform that Hulu uses is built on Flash, and so they’d have to simulate that in their application. If they didn’t, the user could just skip the ads just like any part of the content. Plus any overlays or clickable areas.

      Also means they’d have to get approval from Apple which of course they might not get since it competes with sales from the Apple store as you say.

      There are still advantages to the iTunes shows of course. More reliable quality, works without a network connection (airplanes say). But if Hulu was available, its almost a given that Apple would sell fewer shows.

      So… would Apple block them? I guess we’ll see. Will they punt the Kindle and Stanza apps once they’ve got iBooks? Duplication of functionality?

      And of course who says Hulu’s bosses even want their shows on the iPad, regardless of the confusionspeak above. Just because the technology is possible doesn’t mean the studios will embrace it…

      I’m going to assume this won’t happen.

  4. Paul Colligan

    Time for a wake up call people. Do you really think that the same Hulu that says yout can’t use their desktop player on a television (read the eula) are going to create the ultimate tv killer? Not gonna happen with the free single 30 second commercial model. Not gonna happen.

  5. I’ll believe it when I see it. Hulu is merely an extension (and child) of the studio system. Maybe a little less anachronistic, but they’ve got that dinosaur DNA in them. Honestly, I think they’re having trouble selling ads. And therefore expect to see some sort of subscription service. Perhaps in conjunction with a mobile video option.

  6. i dont think Hulu will be able to develop an App for the iPhone or iPad…

    Afterall Apple has a distribution channel its called iTunes….

    Steve Jobs is playing hardball — why would he go to another aggregator of content when he already has that vision with iTunes.

    At some point in the not distant future (when the number of units of iPhones/iPod Touches/iPads gets into the 100’s Millions) the Studios will have no choice but to relent and provide their content to iTunes…

    Its just a matter who will provide the largest market — PC browsers… or consumers with the iPhone/iPad..

    I reckon with the competitive pricing — Steve wants as many people as possible to have a mobile device — this will force the hands of Studios are just simply hiding behind Hulu.

    • Suresh

      Maybe, but if Apple does that, well it would certainly draw the attention of FTC/FCC and cause more problems than it is worth. I do think both the companies can continue to co-exist, much like Amazon’s Kindle store on iPad.

      My two cents.

      • fair point Om…

        well i should qualify what i was saying– there is nothing stopping Hulu offering free streaming over H.264.

        but i think anything that related to a rent/purchase model won’t be offered except via iTunes — since they control the experience.

  7. I would be amazed if Hulu doesn’t develop an iPad app. It’s such a killer platform for their content. Besides, FLV is just a wrapper for H.263/4 video. YouTube just sends the H.264 video to its app instead of a Flash player running in the browser. Hulu already has an OS X version of its desktop player (admittedly Flash-based). They would be foolish not to make an iPhone OS version.

    • And an Android version as well, given the scads of 7-10″ Android tablets that appeared at CES this month. Oddly, I think that these tablets will probably perform far better in the marketplace now than they would if Apple hadn’t announced the iPad – Apple is big enough to make waves in the non-tech media, so millions of possible tablet users now understand basically what this kind of device is and what you’d do with it. Add some competitive pricing and truly innovative features, and I think Android tablets could grab a substantial share of this market. Provided Google opens the Marketplace to non-phone devices, that is.

      • Agreed. Apple isn’t really one to invent something, only “perfect” it, in the sense that it smooths out the experience enough for mainstream, non-tech savvy users. Doing so opens up whatever market Apple just entered to the mainstream. Once they are comfortable with that category of device, the curious may do some research and branch off to other platforms. Apple certainly didn’t invent the smartphone, but the level of awareness, understanding of, and demand for smartphones is higher than ever thanks to the iPhone.

        I’m really curious to see just where the market goes now that it has reached the mainstream consciousness. (And, I’m really looking forward to more info about that MSI Android tablet.)

      • Scott

        As I point out, my best bet is that they will come out with an Android app first given that it would be easier and give them time to transition to the H.264. I think the Android tablets are good starting point, but the mobiles are good enough in my opinions.