Hulu — the NBC-Universal/Fox owned video website that is not so different from the numerous other websites offering full episodes of television shows, is the subject of a fawning, incredulous profile in today's Los Angeles Times. While all of the major networks already offer the bulk of their primetime line-ups for free online, Hulu boldly puts a bunch of it together on one site, thereby saving precious seconds of web surfing time. In an embarrassing display of old media-ness, reporter Scott Collins rhapsodizes over Hulu's "special features."
How do you Hulu? You don't have to pay anything, download a special player or even register your name or e-mail address. The site, which went up in mid-March, is free; in exchange for watching relatively brief ads, you get access to complete high-resolution episodes of top TV series such as "24" and "30 Rock," as well as impressively cataloged clips from "Saturday Night Live" and other shows.
Wow. Imagine how excited he'll be when he finds out about BitTorrent. Jests aside, Hulu may not seem like much of an innovation to anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the internet. But according to Collins, Hulu represents the next step in Rupert Murdoch's plan to rule the world. Hulu's innovation is not what it can do — it's what it can't do.
As countless media pundits have informed us over the years, the internet has democratized media, allowing any kid with a webcam to become famous by posting video of himself humping an ottoman or crying about Britney Spears. Almost every video site from funnyordie to VEOH allows people to post their own work. Not Hulu. It's "professional" video only. No Chocolate Rain allowed here!
Its rivals think that's a bad idea. Said Dmitry Shapiro, VEOH's founder,
"That's how the Internet was built; everyone participates," Shapiro said in an interview. "That is really the complete opposite of what Hulu is based on," he added, because Hulu doesn't allow users to post their own video. "Closed systems don't work on the Internet."
The Hulu-worshipping Collins quickly revealed the fallacy of his argument, leaving Shapiro stammering.
(When I raised the example of Apple's iTunes music and video store as a type of closed system that's done quite well, Shapiro dismissed it as "an anomaly.")
Meanwhile, in his castle, Murdoch looked at Hulu's impressive stats (63 million total streams during April, good for 10th best on the Internet) and cackled with glee. He rubbed his claws together, in eager anticipation of the day when everything on the internet would be created by his minions.