Hulu: Testing, Testing as It Says Hello to TV Viewers on the Web

By Elaine Liner Archives
Cover image for  article: Hulu: Testing, Testing as It Says Hello to TV Viewers on the Web

Hulu is a lulu. The on-demand closed-beta online TV service, still in the testing phase, offers full-length episodes of current and vintage series from NBC, Fox, Sci Fi, Bravo, Sundance Channel, USA, FX and others. Content partnerships including leading programmers such as Reveille, Smithsonian Networks and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Its pitchline is “the enhanced online video experience.”

So far, so good.

I received my “invitation” to Hulu last month (to sign up for free, just to go hulu.com) just as real television was beginning to suffer simultaneous strike fatigue and winter doldrums. It was an excellent time to explore the new service’s vast library.

Among the gems to be found: the entire first season of the 1990s Stephen Bochco drama Murder One; holiday-themed episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show; assorted installments of The Office, The Simpsons and Family Guy; some dandy old Twilight Zones; the whole season, thus far, of 30 Rock; and for more nostalgia, Kojak and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Among the "collections" are clips of Alec Baldwin's hilarious appearances as a host of Saturday Night Live and as the network chief on 30 Rock.
 

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Episodes stream quickly and clearly. Bump up to full-screen size and it’s the closest thing yet to TV quality viewing on the ’net.
 
Shows aren’t commercial-free, but the interruptions are mercifully short--just 15 to 30 seconds, with some occasional encroachment by on-screen bugs (which still bug me).
 
In this private beta testing period, Hulu is inviting feedback (there are blogs and comment sections all over it). So when I couldn’t figure out how to create a personal playlist, I emailed tech support and they were right back with the answer. Shortly after that, the icons for “playlist” showed up more prominently on the episode lists.
 
NBC Universal and News Corp. partnered up to create Hulu. It’s the sort of site giving extended life to former and current network shows--something the striking writers have made one of their central issues. The parent companies certainly see revenue-producing potential in the Hulu model—and so do those responsible for the creative content.

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Interesting, too, to see several series that disappeared early from network lineups—Raines, the quirky detective drama starring Jeff Goldblum, for instance—find new life on Hulu, where viewers who liked the shows can finally see the rest of the episodes.
 
Hulu, in its licensing deals with MGM and Sony Pictures Television, will also offer feature films. That’s an area that needs improvement soon. Offering titles such as Bulworth, Weekend at Bernie’s and Conan the Barbarian is the equivalent of hosting a festival of bad movies. Best title on the lineup this week: Sideways.
 
While Hulu.com is debuting in private beta, consumers can find Hulu shows on its distribution partner websites: AOL, Comcast's Fancast.com, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo!
 
One aspect of Hulu already has spawned an interesting stepchild. Users can embed Hulu videos throughout the web, including their own sites. But for now, Hulu is available only to viewers in the U.S. To open up access, a Hulu clone called OpenHulu is attempting to lift every video from Hulu and make it all available to web-surfers worldwide.
 
Looks like Hulu allows for some wiggle room.
 

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