I’m having an “argh” moment. Hulu.com long rumored, long in beta, has finally launched. Hurray! The company has lined up most of the majors and has a good library of content (though, 200 premium titles doesn’t really seem like that much; apparently, there’s a good selection of back catalog now and coming online soon). However, will all good things, a little rain must fall.
Let’s forget for a moment that Hulu has built a business model that doesn’t offer choice. If you choose Hulu, you choose advertising. Sure, you get lots of content choice, but, well, advertising. As the iTunes store has proven, people will pay for content. Why not offer a choice? Why not mix up the business model to reach the widest range of customers.
If I were a studio, I’d take my content to both places. Let those who prefer to pay, pay. Let those who want free content go that route. I know that studios won’t because they, for bizarre reasons, seem to want any service but iTunes. Darn Apple for creating a service that consumers love while locking the big boys into consumer-friendly prices.
The New York Times points out another difficulty faced by the service (one I hadn’t really considered): windows.
One challenge Hulu faces is building a predictable and stable library of content. To protect DVD and Web download sales, media companies often make TV shows and films available free on the Web for certain periods of time and then remove them. For example, there are 11 episodes of the TV show “24” on Hulu — beginning with episode 18 of the first season.
Ouch. Also, you’ve got to be kidding me. Are the supposedly brilliant heads of major motion picture studios really this thick? ‘Cause starting with episode 18 of 24 makes so much sense. Do they honestly believe that it’s an either/or choice for viewers? “Never fear, little ones, we will give this content back to you very soon…we merely want your money first.”
I buy very few television series, though I will admit to borrowing DVDs from trusted friends. I buy very few movies on DVD. Most, let’s be frank, aren’t worth watching more than once. However, I am thinking that this is the time to watch the last season of The West Wing. Given the choice of free download with commercials or buying from iTunes, I’m going to buy. If that option is made available to me.
I’m not going to buy the DVD set. Sorry, I just won’t. Having this content available for free on Hulu won’t change my mind. We’ve been preaching the mantra of consumer choice for years, but I’m not sure it’s sinking in. Which might just be why Hulu, despite all the hype, won’t win.