Don't touch that keyboard. Hulu has channeled a seemingly endless trove of TV shows through a Web site more than worthy of broadcast-quality content. A fast, easy-to-use video player. DVR-like controls. A comprehensive search engine for finding specific actors or shows. No wonder Hulu has topped 43 million monthly viewers, streamed more than 6.7 billion videos since its 2008 launch, and become the most popular destination for premium video on the Web. Its desktop application, released last year, raised the bar for laptop viewing, with remote control functionality. The next test? Adding pay services to what has been a free site.
Here's how the plotlines of Hulu and Hollywood's other high-profile disruptor, Netflix (#12), are converging:
Hulu: Topped 43 million monthly viewers. Has streamed 6.7 billion videos since 2008 site launch.
Netflix: Topped 11 million subscribers. Has delivered 2.5 billion DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and video streams since 1999 launch.
Hulu: CEO Jason Kilar, 38, a Harvard MBA and Amazon vet. Quirk: monitors Hulu feedback 20-plus times a day on Twitter.
Netflix: CEO Reed Hastings, 49, who earned a master's in computer science from Stanford. Quirk: doesn't have an office.
NEW CAST MEMBER
Hulu: ABC, which joined the NBC-Fox joint venture, adding episodes of shows such as Lost.
Netflix: ABC, which lets Netflix's streaming service deliver previous seasons of shows such as, well, Lost.
Hulu: Boxee, which streamed Hulu content directly to TVs until Hulu's parent companies objected.
Netflix: Redbox, which offers same-day DVD rentals for $1 at 19,000 locations.
Hulu: YouTube, which now shows clips of current ABC shows and episodes of TV classics.
Netflix: YouTube, which struck a deal with Lionsgate and others to stream some of their movies for free. Also testing rentals with Sundance.
Hulu: Launches Hulu Desktop--think TiVo with endless memory--to simulate the TV experience on a computer, including remote control.
Hulu: Developing a Web-only reality series with American Idol creator Simon Fuller.
Netflix: Crowns winner of Netflix Prize, a $1 million award for improving its recommendation engine.
Hulu: Next Issue Media is the "Hulu for magazines"; Epix is the "Hulu of movies"; Vevo is the "Hulu of music."
Netflix: Rent the Runway is the "Netflix of high fashion"; DeepDyve is the "Netflix of scientific and technical journals."
TRICKY PLOT TURN
Hulu: Can Hulu increase revenue (estimated at $140 million in 2009) and keep impatient parent companies at bay?
Netflix: Can Netflix procure newer titles such as The Blind Side for streaming to match its DVD library, without getting gouged by rights fees?
Hulu: Nagging rumor: no more freebies. It'll become a pay-only site.
Netflix: Nagging rumor: Amazon will buy it.
Hulu: What will Comcast do with Hulu after acquiring NBC Universal? More ads? A pay tier? Fold it into Fancast Xfinity TV?
Netflix: What happens if partners like Xbox strike content deals directly with studios, cutting out Netflix?