Hulu's Big Hope: TV That Doesn't Act Like TV

If you had to bet money on which of the new skinny bundle streaming services will really stick, Hulu would be a good place to put your money.

Not only is it logical--consumers already know what the original Hulu is and what it does--but it is bringing some different mojo to its streaming TV bundle. Its program guide isn’t a program guide at all, in most respects. It gives recommendations and is not a familiar programming grid, like the competitors use.

That may be the modern way for people to consume content but in the TV business, familiarity breeds peace of mind.

In an article from TechHive republished on the PC World site, Tian Lim, Hulu’s chief technical officer, said Hulu had to assure networks that even without a grid, it would be easy for consumers to keep watching the same network after a program ended, the very first goal of every programmer since TV began.

Hulu gave channels their own hubs where they could prattle on about their shows, and says TechHive’s Jared Newman, its recommendation engine was tooled so that if, say, you got done watching a police procedural on CBS, the next recommendation likely would be another procedural from ABC, not Fox or someplace else. 

Also, the networks want the continuity because on-air promos for their shows are built to create that flow-through that makes sense on conventional TV. Lim says Hulu would prefer to use its own algorithms to target people with promos across all of its channels who might like to watch.

But that ain’t happening. Not yet, anyway.

Lim said, “I don’t need to see the same house ad a million times. At Hulu, we have a lot of data about our viewers. We can do a better job of effectively marketing a show to the right people, as opposed to blasting everybody with the same house ads for shows.”

It’s an ironically sweet situation.

The big networks, with the exception of CBS, own Hulu and presumably they do so to be part of the vanguard of the digital future. Yet, old ways die hard. Too much changing to adapt to a new medium turns them off, despite tons of research that screams out the differences between television and streaming and the ways people watch both.

Likewise, Hulu could do big things with interactive ads or generally rearranging advertising, like it it is doing with Brightline on the other parts of its service. But that may be harder to do on the live streaming part of Hulu that’s just been introduced.

"We all know that too many ads, it just sucks," Lim said at the Streaming Media East conference this week. What’s needed, he told, is the ability to center on consumers in ways that will create more engaged viewers. That probably means fewer ads, better aimed. That’s been a long time coming, and it’s not here yet.


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