Hulu On Every PS3
An interesting development happened this week: Hulu pulled access from the Boxee platform. Boxee is a software package that offers IPTV to various set-top box devices. For Hulu, Boxee was providing over 100,000 streams the week before it was pulled. It wasn't Hulu's choice, but was pressure from the content providers. Which leads me to the major point of this post: mainstream content owners don't get it.
No, really -- there is just a lack of general understanding. I get why company strategists acted as they did. Based on this most recent action, and some other rumblings I overheard at CES, I'm pretty sure Hulu is planning on a partnership with a single set-top-box solution, and the company doesn't want any other solutions preemptively eating up its market share. Hulu on your PC is fine, Hulu on your TV is not.
Which is an "old school" method of thinking. In truth, iTunes, the king of digitally distributed media, is likely to face issues in the near future due to an excessively closed system in hardware choices. If there was a clear winner at CES, it was Netflix, which has partnered with literally every home entertainment hardware provider to have hardware coming out this year. Open solutions will increase its market share much more rapidly than closed solutions, as hardware manufacturers will be forced to adopt open standards to remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace.
Even more than just misguided strategy, this recent move shows a fundamental misunderstanding. Don't Hulu's content providers realize there is more than one way to skin a cat? Since October 2008, every single PS3 has had the capabilities to watch Hulu through the Web browser in the device (due to a Flash update). The experience isn't polished, but with a few minutes of tweaking, full screen Hulu on a TV is easily accomplished. With third-party solutions, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have access to Hulu via software like PlayOn, which provides a much more polished experience.
The age of online is not one that offers control by mandate. Where there is a will, there is a way, as the RIAA has found time and time again. The war is won by control via functionality. By providing a better solution, one that takes advantage of proprietary access, Hulu can launch a set-top solution that beats competition. But shooting themselves in the foot by reducing their overall reach is a colossal mistake, especially when there are around six million boxes that offer similar (if less polished) capabilities sitting in U.S. households. Game consoles are increasingly taking a front and center position in delivery of video content to TV sets. Content producers need to accept the inevitable : with digital, once a behavior shifts, there is no going back, no matter how wildly a company mandates.
[Full disclosure: Josh Lovison works for the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which works with Universal McCann. Both Microsoft and Sony are agency clients.]