Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 4:30 PM ET|Posted by Will RichmondHulu unveiled its much-rumored subscription service this afternoon, dubbed "Hulu Plus." I haven't used the new service, but based on the explanation and the teaser video, here are 7 quick reactions:
1. Is there consumer demand for Hulu Plus? - This looms as the fundamental question that will be answered as Hulu Plus rolls out. From CEO Jason Kilar's blog post, it appears that, at least initially, Hulu Plus is a bet on consumers having an appetite for a library of broadcast network programs since that's all that's been highlighted so far. Hulu identifies about 2,000 library episodes in addition to current seasons. Unless Hulu Plus really beefs up its catalog, it won't be long before the library holds few surprises for returning visitors.
2. Hulu Plus lacks many of Netflix's advantages - It's tempting to think of Hulu Plus competing directly with Netflix, and to an extent of course they're after the same general target consumer. But Netflix has several very significant advantages: a brand that's identified with subscriptions and 14 million+ currently paying subscribers, a deep DVD library of 100,000+ titles (which has every single episode Hulu Plus will be offering), a streaming library of 17,000+ titles (offered at no extra cost to subscribers) and integrations with all the same devices Hulu Plus is touting (except the iPhone, which is coming soon). Further, Netflix has far deeper resources; it is a public company with a $6 billion market cap that spends $250 million/year on marketing and has publicly-stated commitment to obtain more streaming rights from Hollywood. With Netflix on one side and cable on another, it's unclear how Hulu Plus will expand its menu. I don't see Hulu Plus diminishing Netflix's rapid growth.
3. Ads in Hulu Plus would be a big-time buzz-kill - I did a double-take when I first read this line in Jason's post: "Hulu Plus is a new revolutionary, ad-supported subscription product that is incremental and complementary to the existing Hulu service." Whoa - are there going to be ads in Hulu Plus? That will be a flat-out non-starter for many prospective subscribers. Yes, I know about ad-supported cable networks, but that's for first-run programming, not for library or catch-up fare. Hulu Plus must be an ad-free zone. Meanwhile, it's important that Hulu still prove the 100% ad-supported business model for its existing experience. With much in flux regarding ad loads there's new messaging Hulu will likely be rolling there too.
4. Why wasn't Android or Google TV mentioned? - Is it a little weird that there was no mention of Android or Google TV in today's unveiling? I think so. Android is fast-gaining on the iPhone (surpassed by some metrics) and Google TV is poised to make a big splash in the fall. Why no mention? Is there an anti-Google bias at work?
5. Hulu Plus adds more support for HTML5 - Hulu Plus is another boost for HTML5 and another small dent for Flash. By making Hulu Plus available on non-Flash supported Apple devices, the it seems the Hulu team has been willing to make the investment to diversify beyond Flash, which it has used since launch.
6. Comcast must already be considering how it exits the Hulu joint venture - When the Comcast-NBCU deal clears, Comcast will inherit NBCU's ownership stake in Hulu. With Hulu Plus it's hard to see why Comcast will want to retain that stake. There's no discernible benefit to Comcast owning a minority position in a new over-the-top subscription service that whets the appetite of potential cord-cutters. It's one thing for selective NBC programs to be freely available for catch-up on Hulu.com, but a deeper library in a paid subscription service? No way, especially not as Comcast is trying to build value in its own TV Everywhere service.
7. Hulu gets credit for a well-executed launch - Stepping back, the Hulu team deserves credit for keeping its subscription under tight wraps and executing a solid launch. There have been no shortage of rumors, but to my knowledge there haven't been any specifically identifiable leaks in the Hulu ship. That's a big accomplishment, especially when you consider how many people must have had knowledge of the plans. The launch includes a well-articulated CEO message, a nicely-done sizzle reel (that is in Flash, which makes it not viewable on the iPad or iPhone!), several device integrations and a roadmap of add-ons, and a slow-rollout plan that will generate excitement among early adopters.
There are still many unknowns about Hulu Plus, but for now this is plenty to chew on.
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