I recently received a beta invite from NBC Universal and News Corp’s new video venture, Hulu. After watching some videos, I’m impressed with what they’ve done for a beta release. Hulu offers both full-length shows and clips from current programming as well as classics from its back catalog. In their words,
Hulu offers current primetime shows like The Office, Prison Break, Bionic Woman, House and Bones, and episodes from TV classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Miami Vice, Arrested Development and more. We’ve also partnered with premier content owners like E! Entertainment, FUEL TV, SciFi Network and USA Networks to add to our growing collection of premium programming.
I watched a variety of shows in Firefox on both Mac and Ubuntu Linux with no issues whatsoever. Your mileage will vary based on bandwidth and video support, but everything was smooth in my testing using Comcast broadband. All the standard viewing options are there with the inclusion of a “lower lights” feature. Turning this option on dims the background around the video clip in the browser for easier viewing.
Hulu is somewhat of an anomaly for a large media company like NBC. With all the notoriety they’ve received for blocking videos on YouTube and copyright infringements, Hulu strongly supports video sharing. The embed feature enables users to share the video on their own website. Hulu even has the option to let users create heir own video clips of shows they’re watching.
Hulu also recently announced the launch of high definition video clips in their HD Gallery. The selection is currently limited, but I expect the content to grow as rapidly as the rest of the site.
After pulling its content from the iTunes store and moving to Amazon, NBC appears to have a lot more riding on Hulu’s success. There still seems to be a conflict though – why would I purchase a video on Amazon Unbox when I can stream it for free via Hulu or via NBC.com itself? The main advantage to Amazon Unbox is obtaining a downloaded file that is owned and portable versus streamed content. With more people watching full TV shows online, I’m not so sure the downloadable model is the winning choice.
I occasionally buy movies and will watch them again over time. With television, though, I rarely watch repeats. I don’t save shows that I’ve taped and subsequently watched on my DVR. Streaming TV shows makes a lot of sense, especially after I’ve already turned to ABC.com and NBC.com to watch some episodes of shows I’ve missed over the past year.
While this isn’t frequent behavior, with advanced services that make it easier to watch TV over the web, I can see myself relying more of these types of services.
Hulu appears to be a success. As the begin to add more users to the beta, we’ll start to see how they handle scaling issues. The bigger questions is whether they’re too late to the game. Without available options, many have been relying on torrents, YouTube, and other “unapproved” sources of these videos. Will these users switch their viewing habits?