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Hulu on Android Foreshadows Google TV War

Hulu videos can be viewed on any Android phone with Android 2.2 and Flash 10.1, Absolutely Android reported this weekend. Hulu blocks mobile phones for licensing reasons, but the trick to get them to play on Android handsets is actually pretty simple: Users just have to change the user agent setting of the phone’s Chrome web browser to make it think the phone is a desktop computer, and Hulu’s videos will start playing on the phones with no problem.

That’s a nice trick for Nexus One owners trying to catch the Lost series finale on the go, but the revelation also points to something much bigger: Hulu videos will inevitably find their way onto the Google TV platform when it launches this fall, and Hulu won’t be happy about it. In fact, the site’s corporate overlords could force it into an all-out war on over-the-top streaming devices, and the results could hurt both Hulu and Google (s GOOG).

Don’t believe me? Then consider this: Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra did a search for House when he demoed the platform at the company’s developers conference last week. The search results clearly included episodes from Hulu. However, he didn’t demonstrate Hulu streaming and instead proceeded to watch a trailer from’s (s AMZN) VOD platform.

Google’s VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra didn’t really want to say whether Hulu runs on Google TV. Technically it would be capable to, he said during an I/O press conference, but the ultimate decision would have to be made by the content owner. In other words: Google would like to play Hulu content on the Google TV, but it can’t promise that it will work. Hulu didn’t comment on whether it will play on Google TV or not when contacted by us.

Of course, that’s very similar to the issues Boxee dealt with a year ago when Hulu decided to lock out Boxee users. The difference is that Google TV is an open source operating system, capable of running a whole bunch of code that goes far beyond of what’s possible with Boxee.

Not only does the most recent version of Chrome for Android allow users to switch user agents, which means they’re essentially pretending to access a web site with a different browser and device, there’s also a number of third-party browsers that have been supporting this functionality for a while. In fact, there are even dedicated Android tools to mask the identity of your device. Many of these apps should run on Google TV out of the box, and one can be certain the developers will come up with new ways to extend the platform and in turn play Hulu videos.

Hulu will likely respond by stepping up the security cat-and-mouse game, which will result in developers coming up with even better ways to circumvent these roadblocks. Who will win? I think it’s too early to tell. It’s been more than a year since Hulu first went after Boxee, and Boxee’s users can still access the site’s content through the application’s integrated browser. Hulu eventually could get the upper hand by relying on Flash security, but that would mean to permanently lock itself out of HTML5, while other are starting to innovate with it.

Google and its partners on the other hand could have a hard time selling Google TV to consumers if their answer to “will this play Hulu” is “maybe it will, maybe it won’t.”

The solution would obviously be to make peace before the war starts. Hulu and its owners should give up on the notion that content is allowed to play on a 27″ screen, but not on a 32″ screen, and Google could help to make this happen by offering some insights into its plans for advertising on Google TV. Once the money is on the table, people will talk. But expect some more shots to be fired before that happens.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nevada Tumbleweed.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Google Takes the Open Battle to Apple on Multiple Fronts (subscription required)

26 Responses to “Hulu on Android Foreshadows Google TV War”

    • Stewart

      AFAIK, the HTC Flash player is a standalone application launched by the HTC Flash Lite Plugin when you double click a flash movie. Not exactly sure how this works on 2.2 with the official player though.

      When I test my Flash version @ it reads FL 10,1,123,404. User agent is: Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.1-update1; en-us; Sprint APA9292KT Build/ERE27) AppleWebKit/530.17 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/530.17.

      When I went to check my flash version I discovered I had turned Flash off. After turning it on again I went back to Hulu and now I get the same error message as you. Sucks, I had just showed a friend it the other day :(

  1. Stewart

    I can watch Hulu just fine on my Evo using the stock browser and stock flash player. No rooting, user agent switching or other hacks involved and it works great over Sprint’s 3g network.

    Blocking any particular browser or user agent is stupid (ala Apple and their html5 demos that only work on macs with safari and quicktime even though other browsers have better html5 support). As long as Hulu ads are not being blocked or replaced I do not see any problems.

      • Stewart

        It was working for me @ launch and up until at least a few days ago. I had no idea they were blocking mobile devices until someone tried to call bs on me. Evo does not use the default android browser, its a modified version of the Android browser by HTC or Sprint but the user agent still very clearly has mobile safari webkit Linux. Also using HTC flash lite, not 10.1 included with Android 2.2. It appears it would still be working had hey not upped the version requirement as we are getting very different errors. Are you on a 2.2 n1 with the official 10.1 flash player?

  2. The launch of Google TV raises an interesting issue that goes beyond just Hulu. Up until now, the entertainment industry has been pushing content through the Internet as a secondary channel, with speculative revenue models. Google TV introduces a new means for viewers to access that Internet content, competing directly with the content owners’ primary revenue streams. Over the next few months, I believe we’ll see studios and content producers reconsider their digital strategies and look even closer at how they handle media rights for the convergence of Web and TV. In the end, I think we’ll start to see the arrival of more fee-based models for online content and in turn aggregators like Hulu will be forced to follow suit.

  3. James Katt

    Unfortunately, HULU makes no money. It is a money losing proposition for its content owners.

    Thus, for Google to make money off HULU is going to be an affront to the content owners, who are trying to figure out a way to make money off the content.

    I seriously doubt the content owners want to be used by Google this way. Thus they will further lock down the content.

    Boxee was small potatoes versus the potential revenue loss that Google TV means to HULU’s content owners.

    Thus, unless Google pays through the nose for the content – thus making Google TV a money loser, then HULU will not be shown on Google TV.

    HULU can easily create its own plug-in to check the identity of the machine it is playing on. Of course, it can do this easily by running Intel Code, which Google TV doesn’t run.

  4. HULU is going subscription.. and they want ad revenue.. I don’t think they will in the end care who watches from where.. AND.. while the people who give them the content might in the long run.. they will be in worse shape if they get into a fight and get locked out of Google TV.

  5. Chris K

    NO such thing as a free lunch folks.

    Either Hulu is going to block and opt out or (if that doesn’t work) it’s going to start charging money and showing alot more ads.

  6. I imagine Hulu will soon roll out their rumored subscription offer and put the majority of top content behind a pay wall. The rest they’ll open up to all devices.

  7. Mike Boulz

    android is open source and boxee isn’t? Hum…… boxee uses xbmc’s source code that’s GPL and the only thing closed source is boxee’s libboxee.
    But saying one is open source and another is closed source is far from the truth. If anything you could argue that android’s operating system is open source, but almost all of google’s apps running on top of the operating sysem are closed source and will probably remain closed source.

  8. Cutsie

    You’re late to the party. Hulu is now blocking the android version of flash. Supposedly there’s still a way to use Hulu but it involves a rooted N1, uninstalling the official flash from the market and install a special version created just for viewing Hulu…

  9. Brian

    It really is pointless for Hulu to block especially as more people just hook up their laptops/netbooks to their TVs using either their browser or Hulu’s desktop app. Why is there a difference to Hulu between a Google TV box and a cheap nettop running a plain vanilla Firefox? What’s next “detecting” that the browser is running on a laptop?

    I can see their beef with Boxee when Boxee was originally “scrapping” their videos but to block based on the type of machine a browser is running on is again, pointless.

    • Travis

      It combines both TV and search together for now. One question, will Google will use Google TV to insert its own ads into content derived from both the web (Hulu, etc) and conventional TV (cable, satellite, etc)? If that’s the case, there will be a holy war by the content producers – the studios/networks, who historically received the revenue from TV ads.

      They need money to produce content. If Google TV takes off and they ‘own’ the ads, will Google pay for the content or become a content producer?

      I realize this is still a long way off and in 10 years, the network/studio/content model will likely be significantly different than today, but the traditional content companies will fight this to the bitter end if Google begins owning the majority of ad revenue. It could get ugly.

  10. To be honest, who cares about Hulu anyway — they only serve the 350+ million US market (plus those few, who know how to use a US proxy ;). I’m sure, Google TV will be a huge hit outside the US, which is a much bigger market.

    • Michael

      You answered your own question. The 350+ million US market. You do realize as far as legit video watching options go for current TV, Hulu is probably hands down the best in the US? I’m actually not even sure what would be considered a close 2nd for current TV (not counting netflix in other words) to fill such a role.

      • What percentage of that 350+ million Americans really watch Hulu? It is extremely unrealistic to think that people may not buy Google TV just cuz they can’t watch Hulu on it.