Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hulu Plus begins testing, and it's an OMG experience

You may remember when the company that became Hulu was first announced by NBC Universal and News Corporation. Critics derided the company and said that two non-tech media firms could never build a compelling online video service. Google called it "ClownCo." But when Hulu actually began beta testing, virtually all of the critics changed their tune overnight. It was head and shoulders above any online video service available at the time.

Rumors have been flying for months that Hulu would introduce a paid subscription service, and yesterday, they did just that, announcing Hulu Plus. The new service will be priced at $9.99 per month, and it provides full access to all the current year's episodes of shows from ABC, Fox and NBC, as well as complete libraries of episodes of some series. One of the biggest complaints that users have had about Hulu has been spotty availability of episodes--some series would only have three or four episodes from the current season available, others would only have a single episode available for a limited time, and so on. By and large, Hulu Plus appears to eliminate these problems.

I've had a chance to try out the free preview of Hulu Plus on both an iPad and iPhone 4 (it's available from the iTunes App Store,) and like the original Hulu, it's an OMG experience. I tested it on a WiFi network, so I can't speak to its quality when viewed using AT&T's 3G network, but the video quality is superb and the user interface is well-designed.

Some reviewers are already calling it a cable or TV Everywhere killer, but Jason Killar, Hulu's CEO, is trying to nip those ideas in the bud. TV Everywhere has a big advantage in that it carries content not only from the broadcast networks but from the major cable networks as well. Hulu may well extend its array of content providers, but the company has to be careful not to over-expand and dilute the revenue shares that it has promised to its investors and primary content providers. Similarly, Hulu Plus is strictly an on-demand service; if you want to watch a live sports event, or see a series episode on the day and date that it's originally broadcast, you'll need a cable, satellite or IPTV service provider.

In any event, I wasn't particularly excited about Hulu Plus until I had a chance to try it out. I'm very likely to be parting with $9.99/month once the service becomes available.
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