Hulu, NBC and FOX’s joint Web video site, opened to the public today after being in private beta since late October. I’m not going to do a full review (there have been plenty; check here and here for starters) but from looking over the site and watching a couple of clips, I can say it functions well. The quality is certainly much better than those of pirated YouTube clips, and in addition to being able to share and embed clips and episodes, you can create your own clips from a given episode or clip.
Most viewers, however, don’t care about the performance quality or added features as long as it meets bare mininum standards. As the responses to one of our recent Big Ideas show, it’s all about the content. In that regard, Hulu is lacking for now. Although it has an impressive list of shows (and movies too!), for many of them, it offers only short clips rather than full-length episodes. Even for shows with full episodes, most of the seasons aren’t complete. In addition, there remains the pesky issue of how long clips and episodes can actually remain on the site, due to licensing requirements.
That said, Hulu also offers a pleasant surprise in terms of content. Its television library not only serves up current shows but also offers a nice walk down memory lane, with episodes from golden shows like “Bewitched” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” to more recent classics like “Hill Street Blues,” to great but still canceled shows like “Arrested Development.” Again, not all the episodes are there (yet), but with many lamenting the relatively poor quality of today’s programming, it’s great to have proven shows available on demand.
When NBC and FOX’s plans for Hulu first became public, many reports described it as an aspiring “YouTube killer.” Well, that’s unlikely; though TV clips certainly help YouTube thrive, the site is fundamentally about user-generated content. However, with the number of classics it offers, right now Hulu trumps the two networks that specialize in the shows of old, Nickelodeon (via Nick at Nite) and TV Land, in online presence. While Hulu won’t be a “TV Land killer” any more than a “YouTube killer,” if it succeeds in keeping up and building upon its library, it could become a valuable syndication vehicle as television expands online.