I'd Pay For a Hulu Subscription If…
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Hulu, the premier online legal TV watching destination, will be launching a paid subscription version next month. Hulu Plus, as it will be called, will charge $9.95 monthly for access to the back catalog of some of the shows which they currently only have up to 5 episodes of. Would you pay for such a subscription service?
Despite being an avowed television and digital media aficionado, right now I would NOT pay for this type of plan. As it stands, access to a few more episodes from the current season of the shows they have available is simply not compelling enough for me to fork over $120 of my hard-earned money every year. However, what can Hulu do to get my money?
I’m glad you asked. I’d pay for a Hulu subscription if…
Simply put, the paucity of HD shows on Hulu is maddening. They have a few in a special walled-off section of the site, but they’re one-off episodes, not for entire series (or even seasons of a show). In order for any paid subscription plan, Hulu simply must offer HD versions of their shows – 720p will suffice, but 1080p would be even better.
Can I watch on my TV?
Hulu, understandably, has tried to restrict companies like Boxee from being able to play its videos on TV-connected devices. This is primarily because Hulu is actually owned by the major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, and Fox each have a 30% stake in the company). However, in order for any Hulu paid plan to have traction, consumers MUST be able to watch shows on their TV. Ideally, this would be through partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Apple, on the Xbox 360 and Apple TV and other such devices.
The most important caveat is that rights holders (read: the networks and production companies) should not and can not be allowed to restrict their shows from being watched on TVs. When Amazon released the Kindle 2, they included a text-to-speech feature on all ebooks; however, after pressure from book publishers, they allowed this feature to be restricted on a per-book basis. For Hulu Plus to be successful, Hulu must not succumb to outside pressures as Amazon did.
Access on more portable devices (Netflix model)
Netflix has succeeded in the digital video space because of its ubiquitous access. Simply put, Hulu must follow Reed Hastings’ lead and do the same. As a consumer, I want to be able to start a television show on Hulu.com, continue watching it on my TV, and then finish it on an iPhone or iPad. Hulu Plus may find consumers willing to pay for access on their computers and televisions, but it won’t be a ball-out-of-the-park hit unless it is available on the products consumers are increasingly using: phones, tablets, and digital media players.
More formats (Silverlight instead of Flash?)
Many people are happy with Hulu.com. I am not.
Simply put, using Flash to display videos is a nice cross-platform solution (and easier for web developers), but it stutters like crazy on my Mac computer (and multiple underpowered Windows PCs I use from time to time). On the other hand, I have never run into these issues while watching an ‘Instant Streaming’ movie on Netflix. This is primarily because Netflix employs the competing Silverlight platform made by Microsoft. Silverlight is a newer technology and is optimized for streaming web video; Flash was never designed for this purpose and such features have essentially been hacked on in the aftermath of YouTube’s wild success.
In an ideal world, Hulu Plus will support Silverlight instead of, or at least in addition to, Flash. A man can hope, right?
Internet users are trained early to expect websites to fall into one of two categories: advertising-supported or subscription-based. Hulu.com falls into the former; users watch one or two commercials every so often in exchange for freely watching television shows. However, in order to get consumers to pay up for Hulu Plus, there must be fewer commercials.
Unlike many other people, I do not expect Hulu Plus to be completely devoid of advertising. As NBC CEO Jeff Zucker has said on behalf of the entire television industry, “We can’t trade analog dollars for digital pennies.” With Hulu Plus expected to be only $9.99 monthly, it will already arguably be a much better deal than cable or satellite — which the average household pays nearly $75 for, but still has plentiful commercials on almost every channel.
All in all, that’s what it’d take for me, seemingly the perfect target audience, to pay for Hulu Plus. What will it take for you to subscribe to Hulu Plus?