Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hulu Announces "Hulu+", Back-Pedals on HTML5

It was going to happen sometime, and it happened today. Hulu announced their subscription service.

Despite the worries of some people though, it's not going to replace the currently free service, but will be an addition. The promo video (which wordpress won't let me post here but can be watched at this link)  talks about three main areas, accessability/devices, content, and quality.

Quality-wise, they're going to offer 720p streaming, in addition to the 288p, 360p and 480p streams they started offering last month. This will be potentially great, assuming you have the bandwidth to handle it. however, I won't care in the slightest. I watch the show for the show, and often I don't care if it's in 288 or 480 now. For content, they're goign to be offering complete current seasons of many shows, and full show runs of others, exclusively on hulu+. Again, thats not a big deal for me - it's nice, but not essential. As long as they don't remove seasons currently available on the free service (I often put on an episode of PROPER BattleStar Galactica, Airwolf or Robotech for the kids)

The top of the Hulu Plus page

The big, puzzling issue is the first one. They're making a big fuss about being able to watch hulu+ on the ipad and iphone. However, they don't do Flash (something about not letting a 3rd party control content, according to apple, ironically being a 3rd party controling content from the point of view of their customers. Of course, there's the financial side too) which means that hulu+ will be HTML5 based. Thing is, about 6 weeks ago Hulu launched their new player, codenamed 'Project Voltron'. In the blog post that accompanied it, this said
An Aside on HTML5
Those are the highlights of our new player. Before we move on to the other updates to our site today, let me address a related topic that’s been in the news a lot recently: HTML5. Plenty of users and members of the press ask about this topic all the time.

When it comes to technology, our only guiding principle is to best serve the needs of all of our key customers: our viewers, our content partners who license programs to us, our advertisers, and each other. We continue to monitor developments on HTML5, but as of now it doesn’t yet meet all of our customers’ needs. Our player doesn’t just simply stream video, it must also secure the content, handle reporting for our advertisers, render the video using a high performance codec to ensure premium visual quality, communicate back with the server to determine how long to buffer and what bitrate to stream, and dozens of other things that aren’t necessarily visible to the end user. Not all video sites have these needs, but for our business these are all important and often contractual requirements.

That’s not to say these features won’t be added to HTML5 in the future (or be easier to implement). Technology is a fast-moving space and we’re constantly evaluating which tools will best allow us to fulfill our mission for as many of our customers as possible.
Yes, technology moves quickly, as does code, but I'm pretty sure there's been no major developments in the last 6 weeks. It's a complete about-face. Is it about making things better, or about seeing a potential market slip away? There's no telling.

Finally, there's the cost. $9.99/month can get you basic cable (depending where you live and how greedy the cableco is). Worse, for all that money every month, you're STILL going to get adverts. By comparison, Netflix offers many of the same TV shows, as well as movies via DVD as well as streaming, and starts $1 cheaper. They also already have ipad access, and will be bringing iphone access soon (which might be another reason Hulu has changed it's mind). Jason Kilar - Hulu's CEO - says he's been using his iPad to watch TV on Hulu for "several weeks", so clearly the HTML5 line was a load of junk. (Hey Hulu, important lesson, sticking to the truth means things like this don't get found out later)

Source: The Consumerist, April 22 2010
What will hulu+ be like. and ultimately, will it be worth it? Back in April, the Consumerist ran a poll asking if people would consider it, and almost 2/3  of them said no. Only 2% said yes, and the other 36% said said, if they got rid of adverts or increased the selection. They're doing the later, somewhat (albeit via retention, rather than getting more different programs). I personally won't pay, but in case the trial they're talking about is free, I'll certainly give it a go.

Ultimately it comes down to Cost vs. Convenience. I don't watch the Daily Show on comedy Central's site, because the player is bugger, and the few adverts are cringe-inducing. I'll just not watch the show. Instead of a small cut from the adverts when I watched it on Hulu, they now get nothing (they [viacom] pulled the Daily Show and Colbert from Hulu because they wanted more money from the adverts). It's this sort of greed that can take a profitable company, and burst it's dot-com bubble.

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