NBC Universal and News Corporations online video distribution channel Hulu is now in private beta and low and behold I snagged an invite. Sexual favors go a long way nowadays. Before we get into the actual service, let’s discuss the domain name. Great four letter CVCV (consonant, vowel) domain with a huge brand potential. IN THE UNITED STATES! As the never wrong Michael Arrington reported last month, Hulu means “butt” in Indonesian and Malay and more ironically “cease” and “desist” in Swahili. I can see it now: “Click here to embed this Butt video onto your blog”. You would think that an organization with the resources NBC has would have considered this. I guess maybe they did but just didn’t care since they are only after the English speaking world. (Oh wait…here’s a line from the invite email: “Our intention is to make Hulu’s growing content lineup available worldwide over time.”) Oops.
Now, on to the service. First of all, they have the entire first season of Airwolf so they automatically get an A++ from me. I know what I’m going to be doing Thanksgiving Day. Airwolf marathon. Hulu also has the A-Team, but I can only stand so much “pity the fool” in one hour.
Quality – Hulu bills itself as a video portal with “professional content” (so it won’t be competing directly with YouTube). This obviously improves the overall quality of material on the site. After watching an episode of Airwolf and a few SNL skits last night I could certainly see a difference in their platform as well. It has a significantly improved quality and feel to it in comparison to YouTube. On top of that I had no bandwidth issues. Only once did it stall and buffer but I was also downloading a SQL database on my other machine so I didn’t see any problems that I normally have on YouTube (remember we’re in beta, so there are a limited number of users). It’s still not where I think it should be on resolution and quality, but since they have Stringfellow Hawke it gets a slight grade bump. Quality Score: B+
Selection – What? Are you listening? All you need is Airwolf and this thing will be bigger than YouTube. But in case you might like to watch something else, they have quite an impressive lineup. One surprising thing was their movie selection. There weren’t a large quantity but I wasn’t expecting any. I (quickly) counted 31 shows that currently have new episodes on the air and around 90 shows that were either on a break or discontinued. And yes Vanessa, I know you have it already but Buffy Season One is there. The only strange thing was that the entire NBC lineup wasn’t available (ER for instance). This may have to do with some sort of contract issue or some stupid rights management thing but I expected the full line. Overall a great selection of mainstream material. Selection Score: B
Advertising Noise – 15-30 Second Advertisements every so often. I watched one full length episode of Airwolf and there were 5 shorter ad spots in around a 50 minute show. In a 21 minute Simpson’s episode there were 3 ad spots. More annoying is the recurrence. I saw the same ad every time in the Simpson’s show. Overall somewhat annoying but better than TV. As for fast forwarding through them, forget about it (insert Italian accent). It’s disabled during the ads. Display ads in other parts of the website were scarce and I only spotted one that was not too distracting. Ad Annoyance Score: B-
Social Media – Without the ability to upload video from the lowly amateur video creators (aka: their customers) it destroys most of the viral potential it would have had. It takes advantage of some aspects of social media as they do allow users to rate, review, and vote on material and they have your standard profile of likes, dislikes, viewed videos, and rated videos. They don’t have any social networking functionality at all. No “follow a friend” or “Battlestar Galactica Group” to speak of (again, this could be in the works or something). They barely pass this category, and that’s only because they have a profile creator. Hopefully they’ll come up with something to add to it. Social Media Score: D-
Marketing – I’ll let someone else handle that one. They have good traditional media partners which could help or hinder them. They’ve got MySpace on board using their platform so that’s probably a plus if MySpace doesn’t screw the pooch somehow.
Overall I like the service. If it remains free I think I will probably be a regular user of it because my stupid Time Warner cable DVR screws up all the time and misses the last 10 minutes of my shows. Overall Grade: B-
WAIT! A++ because they have Airwolf! Here is an example of their embedded player with a funny SNL skit. Enjoy.