So long, Hulu, it's been good to know you

Jim O'Neil

Just for the record: I am, honestly, a fan of Hulu. It's on my iPad, my laptop and my PC (yes, the Xbox and Roku, too once it's available). I actually STILL have a Hulu Plus subscription that I pay for every month so I can watch ad-loaded content that I pretty much can get for free on the free Hulu site. I wander through it for a little bit every day, watch a little Man Cave, Family Guy, a little of this and that.

It's been a unique, refreshing entry into the market since its launch as a much-anticipated and much-needed over-the-top alternative to broadcast and cable TV way back when.

When it launched, the reaction, generally was good. In September of 2008, BusinessWeek gushed about Hulu's "elegant site and eclectic array of shows and movies." CNET wrote "watching full-length episodes of Heroes and King of the Hill at Hulu is far superior viewing experience than watching grainy, five-minute clips at YouTube or other video-sharing sites."

Of course there were critics, bloggers who called the company "Clown Co." and foretold of its eventual collapse.

Add me, reluctantly, to that list.

Hulu--its parentage an unholy trio of big media companies, NBC Universal, Disney and the darkest knight of all, News Corp.--is backsliding from its one-time position as a bright beacon for over-the-top delivery.

When Apple TV arrived last month, it was disappointing, but not surprising, to see that Hulu wasn't supported. On-again, off-again reports have speculated that it'll eventually show up as an app.

But, when Google TV landed this month sans Hulu, it was more disconcerting. Neither the Logitech Revue box, nor connected TVs with Google TV embedded can access content on the site.

A swarm of posts appeared on the Internet with a workaround that could get you through Hulu's defenses (simply changing the user agent of GTV's Chrome browser, as Android 2.2 handset users found), but Hulu's guardians quickly closed the access.

Why? Well, it's a bottom line thing. Content providers still aren't comfortable with trying to cash in on streaming video when they make more pushing it through a cable or over the air. Perhaps Hulu Plus will make that a moot point.

But this week, the Evil Empire that is News Corp. again showed why consumers who put their faith in Hulu as an OTT alternative have done so mistakenly.

When Fox and Cablevision began battling over retransmission fees in the New York metro area, eventually leading to a blackout of Fox to the MSO's subscribers, News Corp. had Hulu block access to its content online as well.

Hulu's comment on the development?

"Unfortunately, we were put in a position of needing to block Fox content on Hulu in order to remain neutral during contract negotiations between Fox and Cablevision. This only includes Fox content. All other Hulu content is accessible to Cablevision Internet subscribers. We regret the impact on Cablevision customers and look forward to returning Fox content to those users as soon as possible."

Sigh.

Hulu is not the be all and end all of the OTT revolution, although it has played a big role in its evolution, helping to show consumers what is possible with OTT delivery, as well as pique advertiser's interest in online video. But the ability of Big Media to so quickly bend Hulu to its will is problematic. When Comcast takes control of NBCU, it also takes control of Hulu. And, when that happens, can there be any doubt about Hulu's future? So long, Hulu, it's been good to know you. -Jim

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