Commentary

Forget Bitbop, Where's Hulu Mobile?

bitbop

At the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas today, Fox Mobile Group announced a new subscription-based mobile TV service called Bitbop that will deliver both streaming and downloadable content for $9.99 a month. Launching this spring, the service will offer full-length TV shows and movies, but details in the release were otherwise scant.

According to GigaOm, programming will come from Fox, NBC Universal and Discovery and is already tabbed in the blogosphere a mobile version of Hulu or "Hulu-like."

That begs the question, why isn't Hulu on mobile? Why is Fox rolling out a new mobile TV initiative instead of simply extending Hulu to mobile? Fox and NBC have already built up brand equity in Hulu as a reliable, user-friendly video service featuring popular network shows like "The Office," "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." Given its head start, wouldn't it make more sense to adapt Hulu for mobile instead of starting from scratch with Bitbop?

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Obviously, Fox parent News Corp. has the means to promote Bitbop across its media properties, giving it an advantage over standalone mobile TV or video businesses like mobiTV, Qualcomm's MediaFlo or mSpot. But it's still more of a hurdle than building on a brand like Hulu that the smartphone audience is already familiar with and is synonymous with premium digital video. Rumors have circulated for some time of a Hulu iPhone app but nothing has turned up in the App Store yet. CBS, by contrast, launched its TV.com app a year ago.

Hulu CEO Jason Kilar in January suggested in a GigaOm interview that the video service will migrate to multiple platforms, including the iPad. If that's the case, then why is Hulu co-owner Fox launching a separate mobile TV service that includes NBC content? It would just end up competing against itself in the form of a Hulu mobile offering.

Fox hasn't exactly lit it on fire in the mobile space with prior moves like its 2006 acquisition of mobile entertainment company Jamba, known in the U.S. as Jamster. The Financial Times earlier this month reported News Corp. is now looking to unload Jamba as it focuses its digital business around MySpace. In Hulu, Fox already has an online hit that it could actually start charging for on mobile. And isn't Rupert Murdoch big on getting people to pay for digital content?

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