One of the more amazing success stories on the Internet is Hulu.com, a curious website whose business model centres on giving stuff away.
Hulu.com provides TV shows, movies, classic clips and other video content. Consider it YouTube for long-form videos, not the short ones for which YouTube is famous.
Is everyone is talking about that Saturday Night Live skit? Hulu’s where you’ll find it — legally and happily and in fairly high definition. All well-organized and in a nice format.
Hulu is an interesting website because, for years, movie studios and television networks (like the newspapers and record studios before them) tried to protect their intellectual property from the grabby Internet. Some cool SNL skit would appear on YouTube and NBC would ask for it to be removed, claiming copyright.
Rightly so, because the network was not being paid for its cowbell rights.
Now, roughly 150 content providers, including NBC Universal, Fox and Disney, send their content to Hulu to be given away for free.
(CBS isn’t among them; it’s developing a site called TV.com.)
At Hulu’s launch, competitors hooted at the site, saying no one would want to watch old TV shows and old movies on the web.
They were wrong.
That goes double when there is no other place to watch the content.
Then the model switched when NBC started porting new stuff over there. Now it is a hub for recent shows, too.
Hulu makes its money by advertising, both in the video and on the site. Just a year old, the site now is the second-most popular video site on the entire web, second only to YouTube.com.
What I like the most is the site’s depth of content and its incredible back end.
It seems like the only performance limitation is the bandwidth you bring to the table.
The search is lightning quick and complete and the video pops up in a few seconds. I also like that the ads are not all that obtrusive. I certainly don’t mind ads; I don’t mind paying the bills to get the content.
In many cases they are a minute or two per hour of content.
No one knows if Hulu is making any money yet, though it is spending a lot of money on promotion, including Super Bowl ads.
It’s loaded with premium content when compared with You Tube. If you’re Cisco or GM, where do you want your advertising dollar? Next to Will Farrell’s SNL monologue or with a video of some skateboarder falling off a curb on YouTube?
If it is not making money now, it probably will be soon.
Want to watch SuperSize Me, the cool documentary about eating McDonald’s food for 30 days? Just click. Or TV shows, some current like Kings, Glee or Family Guy, some long gone like Firefly.
All in all, I love this site and I hope it survives the Web 2.0.1 fallout.
James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org