For online videophiles and naysayers the wait is finally over. The NBC/News Corp. premium video site Hulu is up and running! Well…. with a couple caveats. First, we’ll tackle the good news. The much hyped ‘YouTube Killer’ is open to a select few who’ve been invited to its private beta. Although access to the site and its Flash-based player are extremely limited, some of the content can currently be accessed from its partner sites. But get this – it was never meant to take a shot at Google’s industry-leading video sharing site.
The buzzword from NBC’s camp seems to be “premium content,” which seems to be Hulu-speak for “full-length content.” By creating a platform that frees its content partners from YouTube’s restrictions in terms of quality and length, the NBC/News Corp. have effectively constructed their own specialized hub for full-length video distribution. This includes a decent sampling of shows like Battle Star Galactica, The Simpsons, and even full-length movies.
However, the decisive line that truly separates the two sites is the option to upload. Although normally a mainstay of online video sites, the feature is totally nonexistent in Hulu. Instead, viewers are able to access a library of NBC/Fox content (in addition to content from 15 other cable channels) and stream it with limited commercial interruption from either the main site or through one of its distribution partners (AOL, Yahoo, Comcast, MSN, MySpace).
In terms of advertising, things appear to be light. For short content, viewers can expect in-laid ads and banners, while longer content will feature shorter versions of traditional commercials. While streaming an episode of *The Office *from AOL’s Hulu channel, we only encountered an 8-second pre-roll commercial and two 30-second mid-roll breaks. Not bad, when one considers that upon full launch the content will be embeddable in any website and monetized accordingly.
So, what’s the catch? Although Hulu’s parent companies have done a lot of things right with the service, the scheduling leaves something to be desired. For the time being, the site will only feature five weeks worth of content for any given show. From there, it’s assumed that older content will get the boot in favor of newer episodes and movies. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for us, but for a lot of viewers this will prevent the service from becoming with online video
Shangri-La they’d imagined. Furthermore, with the lack of user-generated content, it falls short of the end-all be-all site for online video. Viewers are still going to go to YouTube and still click their ads – but in terms of piracy a minor rebellion may have been quelled.
Despite that, we have to say we’re impressed..at least initially.
There’s still a long way to go to get the service out of beta, and we won’t really see a lot of its weaknesses until it gets out into the wild. However, in terms of online video distribution platforms, this is one of the most forward looking solutions we’ve seen. Be sure to check out the list of full length episodes, movies, and clips available in the company release.