This week, Hulu announced that their “content partners” have told them to stop cooperating with the Internet video service Boxee. Boxee is a piece of software designed for nerds like me who have a computer (or Apple TV) connected to their HDTV that allows them to access video content through an interface designed for using a remote control.
Boxee and Hulu were perfect together. Hulu provided tons of network content in high definition for free. The ads on Hulu videos were unobtrusive, only 30 seconds or so in length. It was the perfect wife-friendly way to get video onto the TV without going through our satellite provider. It was so good I was even thinking of dropping satellite altogether, getting all of my content through Hulu or iTunes. It felt nice to be entertained legally for a change.
But network executives apparently hadn’t figured out that computers can be connected to large HDTVs these days. I’m sure they viewed Hulu as a way for nerds to get content on their computers, since all those losers do is sit in front of their computers all day. When they found out that we could, horror of horrors, watch Hulu and its limited commercial interruptions on our TVs, they were apoplectic.
But what I can’t figure out is why they’re like this. They make their money off of ad revenue, right? On broadcast TV, all they know about the person viewing the ads is when they’re watching, and maybe the region they’re watching it from.
But with Hulu, they know where they’re watching down to the city level. They know what time the person is watching the show, not when they recorded it. They know the other shows the person has watched, and what things people who like those shows like. Combine this with the limited commercial interruptions, and you get an ad space that’s worth orders of magnitude more than a broadcast advertisement.
To put it bluntly: I actually *watched* the ads on Hulu, rather than fumbling for the remote to skip over them. Or pausing live TV long enough to get through a commercial break.
But beyond that, I was exposed to more TV shows through Hulu on Boxee than I’d ever have seen on TV. The fantastic Fox drama “Lie to Me” runs Wednesdays at 9PM, opposite ABC’s “Lost.” Having watched Lost since its inception, we tuned in for it, oblivious to Lie to Me. We only found out about it because one of my Boxee friends recommended it to us. And now we love it.
The same goes for back episodes. My wife was skeptical of this whole AppleTV thing until I showed her that we could get the entirety of The Twilight Zone on it. Emphasis on the word “could.”
But I’m still hopeful. As always, the Internet will see a limitation and route around it. Right now there are dozens of people working on Boxee and plugins for Boxee that will access Hulu through their web interface. There’s an open source project on Google Code called Understudy that lets you watch Hulu on Frontrow, though it’s not really mature.
The point is that people want their content the way Hulu and Boxee provided it: Freely available any time on their TVs. We’re willing to sit through reasonable amounts of ads for it. And since there’s enough of us out there, we’ll find a way to get the content we want. Networks don’t seem to understand that there are more of us than there are of them.
Not to mention we’re way smarter.