Hulu Plus: The Networks Still Don't Get It
Earlier today, Hulu.com announced Hulu Plus. For those who don't know what Hulu is, it is a company that allows users to stream TV shows to their computer over the Internet the day after a show is broadcast. The TV programs are only on Hulu for a couple of weeks on average. The company was started jointly by NBC Universal and Fox TV, although ABC and other companies now have a stake in it as well. The networks have made it clear in the past that they did not want Hulu content on your TV; it was meant only for watching at your desk on your computer. That is, until today.
Hulu Plus has two parts. First, instead of just being able to watch the most recent couple episodes, the entire archive of the show's current season (and maybe past seasons) would be available with a Hulu Plus account. Also, many older network shows would have every episode produced available for streaming, including old shows such as Ally McBeal, The X-Files and some Saturday Night Live.
Second, Hulu Plus allows you more ways to watch these programs. Along with the Hulu Plus announcement they released a Hulu Plus iPhone/iPad app. Also, Hulu Plus is available via a software update on Internet-enabled Samsung TVs and Blu-Ray players. Also, in the coming months, they have announced streaming to Sony and Vizio players/TVs. And finally, the content is available up to 720p HD on these devices as well as other streaming devices in the coming months.
Hulu Plus is going to cost $9.99/month. Sounds great? Hardly! Paying the $10 does not get rid of ads. It might get you less ads; but mostly it gives you more content to watch. However, for as little as $8.99/month, you can get much of this same content on Netflix streaming (as well as rent a DVD or two). OK, Hulu will exclusively have newer episodes than Netflix because Netflix doesn't get them until on or after the season is released on DVD, but even then Netflix doesn't have ads at all. I guess some people may pay the $10 for the content, but I don't think many will.
What shouldn't be happening? Using the iPhone/iPad app and watching it on your Samsung player is only available to Hulu Plus members. What?? That's right, Hulu has an iPhone/iPod app, but you can't use it unless you pay for Hulu Plus. This makes NO sense!! Sure, list the content that they can't access and try to charge them the $10 if they want to watch it, but making a subscription to watch Hulu videos on your iPhone is just ridiculous. Right now, you can watch hundreds of episodes of shows on your computer for free, but you can't watch these shows on iPhone/iPad or Samsung.
My guess is that the smart folks at Hulu get it; they would love to show us all the content whenever possible. However, because of their ownership by the networks and the content being tightly controlled by the networks, their hands are tied. What the networks seems to be trying to do is still make it easiest to watch the show on your TV; if you miss the show, then watch it on Hulu later. News flash, Hulu: Most of the people I know never watch live TV, and half of them don't even own a TV. One reason they want to make you watch TV is because they show advertisements on TV within the content and that's still where they make the most of their revenue. They need to figure out that they should be in the same business with Hulu: selling ads. They can sell more targeted ads to viewers on Hulu and they could still run 3-4 engaging ads per commercial break and most would still watch. Also, make the content (with the ads) available to anyone who wants to watch it on their TV or iPhone. People who don't want to tune in every Thursday at 9/8c can watch on Friday on their Blu-Ray player or iPad and the networks still get their money, even if they don't get the bragging rights that they own Thursday night.
The television networks are delaying the realization that they do not control the thoughts of America. The movie Network documented that era thirty-four years ago. People have more to tune into than ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. They have the Internet. They have a happy hour with friends. They have a movie to watch. If tools like Hulu aren't expanded to reach more people and more places, the networks are going to quickly find that they have no audience any more.