Hulu – Good Seed Gone Bad.

When Hulu began it was a great idea.  It was the first sign that someone, somewhere, was starting to “get it” when it came to watching media content.  Hulu freed television from the model we have become familiar with.  Where once a show would come on at a certain time on a certain day, broadcast to your TV screen, Hulu gave you the ability to watch the shows when you wanted, how you wanted.  You were no longer tied to the television.  You could watch TV on your desktop computer, your laptop, and several portable computing devices.  All it took was a web browser and an internet connection.  Digital media was honestly coming our way.  Sure, it was ad supported and you had to watch a couple of commercials(far fewer than one has to sit through via traditional media models), but it allowed you a liberty of both time, and how you wanted to view your programming.

Boxee took this one step further.  Boxee is an application that streams media content, bypassing the web browser.  It still had all the same ads when it streamed its programming via Hulu, but it allowed you to enjoy those shows on your television.  It completed the circle allowing the freedom of watching programming at your own leisure, with the ability to watch it on your TV as well as any other media capable device.  For people who have been finding cable companies to be more and more draconian in terms of both service and pricing it allowed us to cut our bonds with our cable provider.  Now that I could stream this legal TV content through my AppleTV it made cable, for me, obsolete (in terms of television – I still use them for internet access).

Things seemed fine and dandy until the powers that be suddenly realized that Boxee found a way to bypass a traditional media outlet.  Big business, slow to catch on, or understand new potential business models, did what it always does and pressured Hulu in to ordering Boxee to cease streaming of their service.  Perhaps if Boxee had provided viewers with a way to skip the advertising I could sympathize with this decision, but that’s not the case.  This is another instance of big media trying to dictate to the end user how they must view their programming.  It’s about control.  With Boxee someone else got to put those shows on the TV in homes across the country; that was no longer the domain of cable and satellite companies.  Not even understanding why big business had to send orders from on high to eliminate this new model.  It’s proof that the existence of Hulu was mostly just a fluke as the big business clung tight to their control.

Hulu, of course, was more than happy to point out that this decision came due to pressure from their content providers.  That this providers would have pulled their shows from Hulu, and that by ordering that Boxee quit streaming the service they were actually protecting their users access to content.  Hulu, in fact, is more than just in bed with big content providers.  Their parent corporations are big content – News Corporation and NBC.  Access for their users wasn’t what Hulu was thinking when they made the decision, they were thinking that to stand up for their users would likely cost them a large amount of revenue.  While I understand this is how the business world works, I just wish Jason Kilar, CEO of Hulu, hadn’t lied about his motivations when he claimed ” Please know that we take very seriously our role of representing users such that we are able to provide more and more content in more and more ways over time.”  While I do believe a part of him truly is sympathetic to the people affected his actions certainly make these claims hard to believe.  Nowhere is it evident that he made any type of attempt to represent these users, instead capitulating at the drop of the hat(though I will admit this may not be true we don’t have all the information of what took place behind closed doors – it’s just hard to imagine that the user was actually advocated during any discussions).

The reality of what Hulu did is two-fold.  First the alienated their user base in order to save face with big business.  They proved that instead of being revolutionary they were no more than another outlet for the control over content and big media’s desire to control how users have access to that content.  Secondly, and more importantly from a business stand point, they reduced the overall viewership on their ad supported media.  Take note advertisers, Hulu effectively cut the number of eyeballs watching yours ads.  Is it effective to do advertising with a business who is willing to reduce their overall viewing base?  You might want to think about that one before you spend any advertising dollars on the Hulu media outlet.

In the end I guess I’m not surprised.  Big media has always been slow to adapt, more willing to fight losing control over an old business model than crafting a way in which to profit off a new one before others can do the same.  It’s a pattern that continues to repeat itself, and it is something that the industry as a whole constantly forgets.  It was nice having Hulu on Boxee, but at the end of the day I’ll carry on.  I won’t be rushing back to cable as my content provider.  I’ll seek alternative forms of entertainment, and continue to enjoy the programming that is still available via Boxee from providers who just may actually “get it”.

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