Reviewers Love Hulu Plus, But Will Anyone Pay for It?

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Hulu’s subscription service, Hulu Plus, has finally arrived in an invite-only beta, and a number of news sites and blogs have gotten early access to the service — which means the early reviews are in. And while we had some problems during our own test of the Hulu plus service, including serious latency issues when loading up videos, for the most part other reviewers that got their hands on early Hulu Plus invitations have been impressed with the service. But the question is, were they impressed enough to pay for it?

Dan Rayburn at Streaming Media gave Hulu Plus an “A+” in his hands-on review of the service on a laptop, iPhone and iPad, saying, “[F]rom a technical and quality perspective, Hulu Plus offers exactly what one would expect it should for ten dollars a month.”

In his review, CNet’s Rick Broida wrote, “Having just watched Spaced on my iPhone 3GS and 30 Rock on my iPad, let me just say this: Hulu Plus freakin’ rocks. Its video and audio quality are superb when connected via 3G and Wi-Fi networks.” But Broida’s colleague Jessica Dolcourt had similar issues to those we experienced, which included problems getting the video to start and pixelation during streams, even on usually reliable WiFi networks:

“[W]e… experienced signal interruptions even with reliable 3G and Wi-Fi while testing the Hulu Plus service on both the iPad and iPhone 4. The video quality could get pixelated and choppy, and when signal flagged, the app suddenly stopped and restarted. Luckily, the videos often picked up again close to where they left off, though we were shown a few more ads in the process than we should have been.”

Engadget, which tested the service on a Samsung TV, iPad and an iPhone, had this to say:

“None of them worked perfectly, which explains why Hulu Plus is a preview and not live. The biggest problems we ran into were unavailable videos via the Samsung TV and a browser crash when trying to watch a show in HD on a Mac. But we also had a problem adjusting the picture settings on the Samsung when running any of the Internet TV apps, which was very annoying and prevented us from producing a decent video since it completely washed out the image.”

All that said, Engadget found Hulu Plus to be “one of the closest services we’ve ever seen to delivering what we like to simply call ‘the dream,’ which is access to any content, any where, at any time.”

Despite the fact that most reviewers found the apps easy-to-use and video quality of the streams good, there was one issue that many had with the service, which was ads. In addition to charging users $9.99 for access to the service, Hulu Plus also delivers a substantial ad load against the videos that are displayed, a “feature” that most reviewers found to be a problem.

In his review of the service, VideoNuze’s Will Richmond called out the ads in his review, writing: “The biggest problem with the ads is that they are discordant with consumer expectations for a paid subscription service.” In other words, users typically don’t want to feel like they’re paying twice — once for the subscription and again by watching an ad.

That complaint apparently resonates with potential consumers, and is one apparent reason why the iPad app has received only one-and-a-half stars in its reviews on the Apple app store. The early response in the app store has been overwhelmingly negative, with many one-star reviews containing comments like, “They want $10/mo to watch TV shows WITH COMMERCIALS included. No thanks,” and “What idiot would pay 10 bucks a month to watch ads.” While the service isn’t open to the general public, it’s that type of negative response from users that might hold back adoption of the service from mainstream America.

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