Why the Comcast-NBC merger is no reason to fear for Hulu’s future

December 10, 2009

Will Comcast take a bite out of Hulu?

Illustration by JPT

Ever since the rumors of Comcast’s now-impending acquisition of NBC-Universal began buzzing, so too have questions about whether the future of Hulu — the free video streaming site part-owned by NBC — is at stake.

After all, observers noted, much of the content made available for free on Hulu was previously only accessible via cable subscription, the necessity of which consumers have begun to question, thanks to the recession and the availability of free television content on the Internet. Will Comcast mess with Hulu?

I don’t think we should worry about losing Hulu as we know it anytime soon. Here’s why:

  1. Fancast. Comcast has already launched its own version of Hulu called Fancast. Same deal: Lots of TV shows and a smattering of movies. For free. Obviously, Comcast isn’t opposed to streaming TV content online for free. (To be fair, one counterargument could be: Exactly. Comcast may try to throttle Hulu’s success in favor of its own site. However… )
  2. If Comcast pulls NBC’s content out of Hulu, it will not only piss everybody off (okay, fine, you’re right, Comcast *is* used to doing that), but it will leave ABC and other content providers who will remain on Hulu– ie, Comcast’s new competitors — with an advantage.
  3. I don’t have cable. I watch all my TV shows online. But guess who I shell out $60 a month to for Internet access. That’s right: Comcast. Something tells me those bastards will find a way to leverage their ISP business to make up for lost cable subscribers and still end up being an obscenely profitable company.
  4. There’s still stuff you can only get (legally) from a cable subscription. While many – if not most – popular television shows are available to stream online for free, many are still only available via cable. Many sports broadcasts and new episodes of “premium” HBO shows can’t easily be found online to stream and thus, an incentive still exists for people to purchase a cable subscription. Besides…
  5. Most of the NBC-owned content currently on Hulu is network TV, and thus doesn’t require a cable subscription to view anyway. I can watch The Office and 30 Rock on TV without cable. Unless Comcast/NBC would pull these shows just to hurt Hulu’s traffic, I can’t see a compelling business reason for them to restrict access to them on Hulu.
  6. Of course, anything can happen. Many people just expect a negative outcome when Comcast is involved, which is not totally unjustified. Indeed, they may find a way to ruin or water-down Hulu. But there are plenty of good reasons for it not to.



    Related Posts: » How to save hundreds of dollars on cable; »Eliminating the cable bill, part deux: Boxee!

Three reasons why it’s a mistake for Hulu to pull content from Boxee

March 15, 2009

In full disclosure, I am a total Boxee fanboy, which for anybody who hasn’t heard the buzz, is a slick, open source media center application that lets you watch online video (Hulu, YouTube, Joost, Netflix, ABC.com, CNN, etc.) from one clean, seamless interface. You can also plug in RSS feeds for just about any video site you can find an RSS feed for.

Boxee is TV without the cable bill, with a way more diverse selection of content.

A few weeks back, Hulu reluctantly announced on its blog that its being forced to pull its player from the Boxee application, due to complaints from the content providers (meaning the networks).

The move, quite expectedly, sent Boxee users – and many Hulu users – into a furor over what appeared to be another attempt by “old media” to forestall the Internet’s inevitable destruction of its business model.

Boxee and Hulu have been going back and forth ever since, while resourceful users have begun figuring out hacks to restore Hulu’s content to Boxee.

And that is just one reason out of many that this move is going to prove to be a huge mistake for the content providers:

1) Technology first adopters and Web geeks are resourceful. If they want your content, they’re going to get your content. The fact that you think you can stop them proves that you haven’t accepted the reality of the Internet and what it means for the future of your business.

2) Even if you succeed in building an impenetrable wall around your garden of content, guess what: Your competition is not. So, while the NBC and Fox shows are not available on Boxee, content from ABC, CBS, CNN, Comedy Central, BBC, MTV, Netflix, Revision3, YouTube, and literally any RSS-based video feed on the entire Internet are.

3) The advertisements on Hulu videos still play when the videos are consumed through Boxee. So in addition to agitating users and looking stodgy, the content providers are actually denying ad impressions and click-throughs, and, in the process, revenue.


How to save hundreds of dollars on cable

October 27, 2008

It’s pretty simple: Don’t get it. If you already have it, cancel it. Seriously. You don’t need cable.

I remember when I was in middle school, begging my father to shell out for a subscription, as the lack of cable in our three-bedroom apartment in suburban Philadelphia was resulting in a horrendous record of missed TV programs: Live music specials. Various geeky documentaries. Bitchin’ super-hero cartoons. I produced a list of such examples, upon which I built an elaborate argument for getting cable.

The bottom line was the cost. For the few channels on cable that my dad and I would actually watch, he argued, he couldn’t justify spending hundreds of dollars per year on it.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how badly I wanted cable, especially in this age of iTunes, Hulu, YouTube and whatever else lay on the horizon.

Then again, the Internet was only in its embryonic stages back in the mid-1990s. We still clogged up our telephone lines signing onto America Online and if we wanted to watch video, we had to wait at least a solid hour for some low-quality, AVI clip to download. Flash itself hadn’t yet been invented, not to mention streaming Flash video.

No wonder its #1

AOL: So easy to use, no wonder it's #1

As for music, we were lucky to find a 20-second WAV clip of the new Smashing Pumpkins single, as a cutting edge alternative to the full-length MIDI file, which played like the soundtrack to one of history’s worst Super Nintendo games.

Today, the story is quite different.

Recently, my girlfriend and I decided it was time to replace the 23” TV that saw her through four years of college. At first, we looked at digital projectors, but when I found an insane deal on a 42” HDTV, the decision was made.

You might guess that a new TV requires something more than dilapidated rabbit ears to enjoy. And, it does. But that something is not cable.

The only cable line coming into our Philadelphia row house is not carrying the latest OnDemand content from Comcast, but rather an Internet connection. That’s really all we need. Beyond that, a standard VGA cable (with a DV adaptor if you have a Mac) will connect one’s TV to a laptop or desktop computer. Once online, the notion of “television” as we once knew it seems ridiculous.

First, there’s the multitude of user-generated video sites, of which YouTube is the obvious leader. Whether you want to watch clips of Walker Texas Ranger, creepy John McCain speech mash-ups, decades-old music videos or pretty much anything you can imagine (copyright issues not withstanding), this site alone could almost be one’s sole source of entertainment.

Add to that what’s available through iTunes, and you have a pretty robust offering of entertainment choices available over the Internet. In addition to paid content like movies and TV shows, there’s a host of free video (and audio) podcasts available on iTunes, from providers as diverse as National Geographic, Al Jazeera and ESPN, as well as independent video blogs.

That’s the other thing about the post-television era: Anybody can be a broadcaster… for better or worse.

YouTube and iTunes have been around for a few years and, to be fair, those two outlets alone don’t quite cut it, considering the historically low quality of YouTube videos and the fact that most of the good content on iTunes is – in an online anathema of sorts – not free.

Totally awesome.

Hulu.com: Totally awesome.

Enter Hulu, Joost, and the like. These new Websites offer full-length, high-quality episodes of shows from Alf and The Facts of Life to The Office and The Daily Show, as well as movies.

The downside is that viewers have to wait anywhere from a few hours to a day to see new episodes, but you know you were gonna Tivo that shit anyway.

Not to be outdone, YouTube also recently started hosting full-length content, should you desire something more than a clip of Haley Joel Osmond telling Wilford Brimley that Chuck Norris told him he has AIDS.

It’s been about two months since we bought our TV, and so far we haven’t yearned for cable. Here’s how we’ve coped:

  • We watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report on Hulu.
  • Hulu also has The Office.
  • Faye bought the season pass for Mad Men on iTunes.
  • We were able to watch all three presidential debates live on CNN.com (and host a debate-watching party for the first one at our house).
  • I still watch all my nerdy podcasts and alternative news programs, now much larger.
  • Netflix.

We’re not the only ones replacing traditional TV with Internet video. Advertising Age recently reported Saturday Night Live’s Sarah Palin-inspired TV ratings surge will soon be surpassed by the number of people watching the clips online: nearly 15 million.