Commentary

Hulu Plus: More Whatever

The long-awaited Hulu premium program launched yesterday. Or I think Huluplus launched for someone somewhere. The $9.99/month plan appeared as an app on both my iPad and iPhone but when I tried to log into them with my current Hulu account name it kicked me over to the Web site to request a "Preview Invite." Does this mean I am not hip enough to be invited to the Huluplus pre-party? And here I am all tricked out with a fair number of the connected devices the new service addresses: from Xbox 360 and PS3 to iPad and iPhone. How disgustingly spoiled does a guy have to be to cop a Hulu pass anyway?

All I have gotten thus far is a kind of snub. "Thanks for requesting an invitation to subscribe to Hulu Plus. We'll send you an invite as soon as one becomes available."

When one becomes available? There is a velvet rope around this thing? No, really, I am with the band.

The pitch for the service is "More wherever. More whenever. More than ever."

Whatever. I don't' have it. they explain that they are inviting people in waves to manage the flow and performance.

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I was able to get into the free area of the iPad app, and the look and feel is pretty much all Hulu. The organization of episodes is not ideal, with a lot of scrolling and drilling into seasons. In the free episodes that were available to me I didn't seem many amenities like bookmarking, resume viewing or favorite saving. But for all I know those capabilities are available to the privileged ones who make it beyond the velvet rope.

The new service is trying to justify its $9.99 a month price tag with remote access and a mile high pile of season passes. The content includes full episode runs of current season favorites like "House," "The Office," "Glee" and "Family Guy" plus a deep catalog of multiple seasons from many hits. You can get all six seasons of "Lost" (136 episodes in all). Hulu says that in all plus subscribers will get access to 2,000 episodes representing 120 seasons of material. While I doubt very much that I am going to elect to take on $120 more a year to my already-considerable paid content load, I have to applaud the effort. As otherwise ad-supported free media starts dancing along the fashionable pay wall, too many publishers take a smug "time to pay up" approach. Instead, Hulu is overwhelming the customer (again, not me yet) with content and access options. If you are going to change the model on people, then you should super-serve them past the sticker shock.

According to hulu CEO Jason Kilar in his blog post announcing the program, "Hulu plus is not a replacement for Hulu.com." the content choices are deeper, the access much more flexible. It is one of the first cloud-based media subscription services. You can access all of the content in the library so long as you are connected and subscribed.

But is that enough? Is a TV-centric subscription service almost too narrow for a mediaholic? I am getting a large film library from Netflix's Watch Instantly product as well as many TV archives (albeit not as complete and current as Hulu's) for the same price. Hulu plus gives Netflix and perhaps now Apple a clear target to hit with assets Kilar doesn't have. Perhaps more interesting will be seeing how the various media suppliers (NBC, Fox, Disney, film studios) navigate these partnerships and position their content differently across the services.

As much value as there may be in the Huluplus offering, at least for TV fans, it feels more like the opening salvo in long, long tussle over paid models, rival bundles, media 'coopetition' and a big content land grab.

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