Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Hulu Is Kinda Stupid

It recently hit the street that Hulu is considering charging for their content. I suppose I can appreciate that, Hulu offers a lot of material which is quite valuable - recent shows, especially, for this age of time shifting. There's a decent amount there I'd access to catch up on some TV.

Which is why, if ad revenue is down and the powers that control Hulu need more cash, I have a recommendation other than forcing people to pay.

Stop being so damned stupid.

See, back in July, Hulu blocked the PlayStation 3 browser from accessing content. At first this was just done without much explanation, but then a very corporate non-answer arrived which takes a bit of brain pulling to translate (they use "windowing" as a term if it explains everything) - but in between the lines it comes down to "our partners pay for specific rights concerning television viewing, and threatened to pull out."


Distribution availability across platforms — theaters vs. TV vs. recorded media like DVDs vs. online streaming vs. mobile phones — was always implicitly or explicitly controlled in that world. But a few factors have made the barriers between those platforms more permeable: the rise of the web, increased broadband availability, the ease of digitizing video, and the increase in the computing
power of devices like gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and mobile phones.

However, in the near-term, the windowing strategy is still dominant in the business. Billions of dollars flow in across these different windows, and entire companies are organized around them. Nothing productive comes from flouting that reality (except to law firms who work on the occasional lawsuit).

Yeah. So this is why that is kinda stupid. Television industry types, listen up - because I'm only going to rant about this once.

Technology has converged your precious windows. Sorry about that, but it is really time to move on. Thanks.

See, I can watch your little television programs on my television using a computer any time I want. Heck, with the right cables - I can probably watch it with my iPhone. With some mad Linux skills, I could still do it on my PS3. This concept that my television is somehow under your control is so archaic that you make my old TiVo laugh. As if VCR's and DVR's shouldn't have been enough of lesson - the fact that my television is essentially a massive computer monitor at this point is just not that difficult of a concept to grasp.

See I have this Mac Mini. And it hooks right into my television. And it has a web browser. Which can play Hulu. So that kinda fscks your stupid windows concept right up.

But I don't watch Hulu on the Mini, because it is an older PPC model and the performance sucks. It worked pretty good on my PS3 - but now that's blocked. So now I don't watch Hulu.

And someone at Hulu is wondering why ad revenues aren't what they'd like them to be - but instead of the networks realizing this is nearly the year 2010, the whole thing is considering going to a pay-to-view model ... which is quite possibly they only way the thinking around the whole thing could travel any more backwards in time.


So yeah, go ahead and charge for Hulu. Let's see how that works for you. Or wake up to the modern world and just increase your current viewership.


sterno said...

If the entities behind Hulu were smart they would roll out integration with Roku, or similar at the same time as they implemented paid viewing. Sure I could hook up a computer with a web browser and get things for free, but it'd be awfully damn convenient to have it all on my TV commercial free. I'd pay money for that. Probably not more than $20-30/month, but it'd be worthwhile.

However, if they are going to charge me to watch these TV shows on my laptop, then I think I'm done with TV. Cable is a massive waste of money because I pay like $80-90/month to watch the half dozen or so shows I care about. I can buy individual shows through iTunes but it ends up being about the same cost as Cable. At some point it's not worth the cost and hassle.

The cost/value equation just doesn't make any sense for TV anymore. The current going rate for TV without commercials is about $3/hr, give or take the fact that the price is the same for 30 minute episodes as it is for 60 minute episodes. Consider that against the following:

1) A game I just picked up that I've easily put 20 hours into so far that cost me $60. I will probably put another 20-40 hours into it. So less than $1-2/hr. The value is even better with games that have extensive multiplayer elements.

2) A book I just picked up for $20 will easily give me 10 hours of enjoyment. So $2/hr. Furthermore, after I'm done reading it, I'll actually know something about the world I didn't know before. Crazy, eh?

3) Movies are pricey at about $5/hr, but they are social, generally more rewarding than TV shows, and don't require ongoing effort to follow.

TV is just a bad deal when you get down to it. What made TV a value was that it was free. When Cable first got started the price for it was pretty reasonable considering the content you got. These days though you're spending $80-100/month and not getting much value add out of it.

Josh said...

We just hired a guy back from the UK. He has no plans on getting cable. Internet is his TV. He is exactly the kind of guy Hulu should be worried about.

I think hands down my favorite way to watch TV is via Roku. Netflix provides us with a lot of content, so their price is highly justified. The few first run shows (Leverage, Harper's Island) we've been able to catch are hands down the most convenient way to view some quality programming.

The iTunes and PSN model is just too expensive for us. We'll do it every now and then - a show here and there, but it really doesn't make any fiscal sense to pay near movie prices for 40 minutes of content.

And oddly iTunes works like crap on the Mini. Can't play HD (PPC), but the HD version usually tries to insist on downloading. Just a pain.

If a) I could use Hulu on any hardware I wanted and b) the player performed a bit better, I might consider paying for it. So basically yeah, it worked like Roku.

Which come to think of it - why wouldn't Hulu want Roku support? Put shows online, put ads on the shows, bam - instant viewership. It's only because of this completely broken, unrealistic, concept of a "distribution window".

Right now Hulu only works for people who don't watch TV with other people (it's not like we curl up on the couch and watch the old MacBook) and have a pretty decent computer. That's a good number of people, but to really compete against things like BitTorrent - it needs to be willing to innovate back into the modern age.