As you may or may not be aware, NBC Universal and News Corp have teamed up to challenge YouTube’s internet dominance via Hulu. The big draw lay in the two entertainment powerhouses (along with a number of other notable networks like Sci-Fi, Bravo, etc.) offering full-length ad supported episodes of their hit shows, as well as being a user generated content hub for folks to upload their own clips. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? So why doesn’t it work?
For one, the video quality is only a few shades higher than YouTube. Quite frankly, I expect a major network to make it’s own work available in one pretty damn high quality format, and this just doesn’t cut it. The default window size of 520×295 (and the hideous video distortion when you attempt to full-screen) means that a 1600×1200 resolution (ie, mine) is going to be mostly non-video, which is another serious hit. I don’t want to watch Battlestar Galactica in a window, ya know. I want to actually WATCH the show.
Which brings me to the next point: I realize that Hulu is currently in beta, but currently the show line-up only looks great on the surface. In nearly every case, the available show listings seem almost random in what’s actually available. Going back to Battlestar Galactica, for instance: BG is gearing up for a Spring 2008 schedule for its fourth and final season, and while UK and Australian fans already have Season 3 available on DVD, US fans will have to wait until Season 4 airs for the same. On Hulu, Season 3 is available, but only from episodes 14-20. What the hell is up with that? That kind of spotty-availability is endemic to every popular title listed.
Oh, and by the way: The site is designed for US based IPs only, so screw you, rest of the world.
All in all, Hulu is shaping up to be one of those corporate endeavors that actually drives people towards piracy (at least in the case of material that’s not available on DVD) by severely limited both the scope and the quality of the material available. So far, not a single big network seems to understand what it is we’re wanting from media delivered via tubes (ie, broadcast quality work in a format that lets us actually enjoy it), and that’s a lesson they need to learn and fast. It’s a couple mouse-clicks for a user to decide they’d rather just download a high quality rip of a show rather than sit through a smattering of ads for a version not even 1/8th the quality.
All in all, I’m willing to predict that Hulu (barring some monumental changes between now and live launch) is going to be yet another consigned-to-the-dustbin folly that drives home just how horrendously inept the media companies have been in dealing with the internet as a whole.