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!

4) Mofuse: Launch a mobile version of your Website in minutes

October 8, 2009



It’s been 15 months since Neilsen declared that the mobile Web has reached “critical mass” and even longer since news publishers began scrambling to get on board.

Well, the numbers have only skyrocketed since then. There are plenty of providers of mobile Websites, apps and SMS marketing capabilities, but they aren’t all cheap. Vendors like Crisp, Advanced or iLoop Mobile offer really nice solutions, but each one will run you a couple grand to set up, plus monthly fees, revenue shares and SMS messaging costs.

That’s just for mobile (or “WAP”) Websites, SMS capabilities and some other bells and whistles. If you want a native application for iPhone, Blackberry or Android, you’ll have to go to a mobile app developer and fork over a few thousand more bucks.

The good news is that you can get started on the mobile Web without breaking the bank with free or cheap products. There are a few: Verve Wireless (newspapers only), Mobify and Mofuse, to name a few.

The one I found to be the easiest to get started with was Mofuse. In a few minutes, Mofuse lets you launch a mobile-friendly version of any blog or Website; All you need to do is plug in an RSS feed, pick some colors, upload some graphics (optional), and you’re off. One thing: Your RSS feed should contain the full content of each post or article, not just a snippet (You can often change this setting in your content management system, or you may need to contact a programmer to help you).

Mofuse's mobile Web site builder has an easy-to-use UI

Mofuse's backend site editor: Piece of cake.

Like so many great Web apps, Mofuse uses a “freemium” model, with a few tiers of pricing above the free version, each one with a more robust feature set. Mofuse for Blogs, the free version, is really all you need to get a decent-looking mobile site up and running. For more advanced features and customization, Mofuse Premium has three tiers of pricing, ranging from $40 to $200 per month.

Coolest features:

  • Auto-redirect mobile users.The ease-of-implementation will depend on what content management system your full-sized Website is running on, but Mofuse does give you the code snippets necessary to automatically redirect mobile users to the mobile version of your Website. (Note: You can always do this using a simple JavaScript redirect, but it won’t work for people on smaller, non-smart phones)
  • “Send-link-to-phone” widget.Another code snippet that lets you embed a “send link to my phone” widget in your full-sized Website, so a user can text themselves the URL to the mobile-friendly version.
  • Customization.Even without the CSS access that the $89/month “Small Business” version gives you, you can still modify the colors and graphics on your mobile site with ease. Cheaper CSS access would be sweet, though.

Limitations: I feel bad complaining about such an awesome free product, but it does have a few limitations; 1) Rather than redirecting *all* site users to the mobile version’s homepage, some method of relating mobile and desktop versions of each individual piece of content would be nice. That way, if a mobile user follows a link to a specific blog post or article, they’re not redirected to the homepage of the mobile version instead. 2) Although JavaScript is limited on most mobile devices, some means of integrating Google Analytics with Mofuse would be nice too.

Example: PW Style blog (mobile version)

And you thought your iPhone was neat.

March 15, 2009

From the MIT Media Lab, via TED, comes a look into the (near) future: Smart phones meet Microsoft Surface meets Mozilla’s Ubiquity. You’ll be able to media and information onto any surface and interact with it. Absolutely insane.

Obama: I’ll use the Internet to improve democracy

November 4, 2008

For all the non-stop coverage of the 2008 presidential race, one thing that hasn’t gotten much play is the candidates’ positions on technology and the Internet. Perhaps it’s not as sexy as Obama high-fiving terrorists or Palin spending a billion dollars on high heels, but it is pretty important to the future of our society.

McCain’s positions on these issues are pretty middle-of-the-road and watered-down (although he does oppose net neutrality). It appears to not be a high priority for a man who openly admits that he doesn’t use e-mail.

Barack Obama, however, has a pretty detailed, rather progressive platform pertaining to media, technology and the Web. All other politics aside, Obama’s positions on this should excite even the most cynical Web geeks, journalists and citizens in general.


Government 2.0?

It’s worth remembering that the people who invented democracy viewed the free flow of information as absolutely critical to the success of their experiment. This fact was not lost on America’s Founding Fathers, who remarked that “our liberty cannot be guarded but by liberty of the press” (Thomas Jefferson) and that any attempt at democracy without widespread public access to information would amount to “a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.” (James Madison)

When Madison and Jefferson got all giddy about a free press, they were literally referring to the printing press. When the Constitution and its Bill of Rights were drafted, they didn’t know about Google. They didn’t even have Alta Vista or Meta-Crawler. The technological advances that we all take for granted were utterly inconceivable when democracy was dreamed up.

So, if the means of acquiring information are now exponentially more sophisticated and instantaneous than they were back then, shouldn’t it follow that public participation in government – true democracy – is now more attainable than ever?

Maybe. It depends on how well the government embraces technology and new media.

Obama can has Internets for change.

Welcome to the future: Obama can has Internets for change.
Credit: PhotoshopTalent.com

To be sure, the Internet has already begun to have a dramatic impact on the news media, politics and the flow of information, even without the aid of government policy. Imagine how things will look in 10 years if the government jumps on the Internet bandwagon we’ve all been gleefully riding for years.


Some of Obama’s proposals:

  • Obama proposes making essential data about government programs and spending readily available online for citizens to view and analyze.
  • Under the Obama plan, citizens will be solicited for input on some (they don’t say which) important public policy decisions via the Web.
  • Obama will require his cabinet members to webcast internal meetings and deliberations online, as well as provide the means for the public to participate in such meetings.
  • Any “non-emergency” legislation will be available on the White House website for five days so that citizens can read and comment on it before it gets signed.
  • Modern web technologies like blogs, wikis and social networking sites will be used for cross-departmental communication and collaboration within the federal government.
  • All of the above will be overseen by the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), whom Obama will appoint. This new cabinet-level position will ensure adherence to the latest standards and best practices in technology across the federal government. Anybody who’s ever tried to navigate any government Web site knows how important this is.

It is worth noting that although issues like media ownership reform and net neutrality have begun to capture some public attention in the last five years, there is no overwhelming public demand for things like next-generation broadband adoption, the first-ever appointment of a federal CTO or using the Web to make government more transparent.

In other words, these are all things that either candidate could easily get away with not promising, or even talking much about. But the Obama campaign has decided to take these issues seriously on its own accord, consulting tech industry heavyweights and paling around with Google’s leadership.

Only time will tell, of course, if President Obama will make good on all of these promises. But the mere fact that he’s even making them is a pretty good sign.