Hulu Plus, Apple TV, Netflix and new releases: the OTT space is red hot

Jim O'Neil

The news in the past week or so has been all about the over-the-top space.

Hulu Plus rolled out for the iPad, iPhone and PCs, of course, last week (see this story); Netflix signed a deal to stream new-release movies from Relativity Media (see this story); and the specter of a new push from Apple for its Apple TV franchise also made news.

Alone, each is a pretty big story. Together they say even more about how the online video space and OTT delivery are heating up.

On the Hulu Plus front

The rumor today is that Hulu is pitching to Time Warner Cable, looking for a spot in the company's VoD line up. The Hollywood Reporter posits that having Hulu as a "frenemy" would be better than not having it at all (see this story). In fact, the Hulu Plus service makes Hulu a worthy ally.

I'm right in the middle of a Hulu Plus trial and--so far--I love it. Watching episodes of "Friday Night Lights" on my iPad, MacBook and iMac really shows why Hulu Plus could be a true benchmark for TV Everywhere services. After registering and logging on, my account followed me easily to each one, picking up each show where I'd left off. In fact, after exhausting my iPad battery and losing FNL midstream, I opened up my MacBook, went to the Hulu website and the site restarted FNL at the point it had gone dark on the iPad, a nice surprise.

And, while the video looks awesome on my iPad, it's pretty good when I took it to a 46-inch Samsung as well.

A couple of minor quirks and irks, though: while picture quality is flawless and the stream is virtually issue free on the MacBook and iPad, on the iMac it can be a little twitchy and occasionally will freeze. But that quirk may be more of a biological interface error--mine--than Hulu's. In short, I need to spend some more time playing with it.

My irk? The advertisements. With a $10 per month price tag, I'd expect the shows to be free of interruption. But, just like the free side of Hulu, you get pre- and post-roll ads, and a few stuck in the middle. The ad load, so far, is still considerably smaller than on broadcast delivery and that, to me, is an acceptable, albeit, annoying trade.

For the $10 a month fee, Hulu Plus is, in my book, a winner.

On Netflix and Relativity Media

Reativity Media has its thumbs in a lot of Hollywood pies, but not always the biggest ones. Still, it has 14 releases coming out in the next year, a couple of them that are getting good advance PR. It also is tied, in one way or another, to some of the other studios that are big players, like Sony.

What that means to Netflix, and its 14 million households that subscribe (half of whom are streaming Netflix supplied content to their homes) is that, for the first time, Netflix will be getting releases to stream that are fresh, just off DVD sales and still, in many cases, considered "must sees."

That's a big rung up the ladder from the somewhat stale offerings it currently has. It puts them right beside an HBO or Showtime. If Relativity has a good experience with Netflix--and with an audience the size of Netflix, why wouldn't it--it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the writing on the wall.

On Apple TV

OK, this one's pure rumor, and maybe a little bit of hope, as well, but it comes from The New York Times, which also was spot on with the rumors about Google TV.

What the Times is saying is that Apple is finally starting to look hard at what has so far been a clunker in its otherwise stellar inventory.

At one time, Steve Jobs was counting on Apple TV to be a major revenue stream for the company. It hasn't lived up to those expectations. In fact, he and other Apple execs have taken to calling it a "hobby." But a hobby with the revenue potential that OTT delivery through an Apple device has, can't stay a hobby long. It just doesn't make sense.

So, it comes as no surprise that rumors about a new Apple TV product, not just revamped, but remade, and a new interface--from a company that has established itself as among the best at crafting UIs--are percolating out of Cupertino.

Apple, the Times says, has hired designers who come from the broadcast world, with experience in what users are looking for. Check out this story for more details.

So, are these watershed events for the OTT space? Or just evolution? - Jim