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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Followup - The Future of Broadcast Television

I finally got my password to the beta program for hulu.com and I must say it is what I thought it would be, a site where you can watch advertising-supported Fox and NBC programming for free. This article is a followup on innovation article #75 of November 11, 2007. ABC.com has been doing this for some time, but this marks the first time that two competing networks have gotten together to share development costs on such a venture. The real question is not whether it will be successful or not, but how successful it might be.




The site sounds a near-certain death knell on iTunes future capacity to offer television content profitably. ABC already has their content for free online, and now NBC and Fox do as well. While some people may want to be able to watch content without commercials, I surely doubt that the size of that market segment are going to be large enough to make it worth the investment in servers and development cost, not to mention marketing and other costs. People that are that adamant about not having commercials, and are willing to pay for that privilege, will surely spring for the DVD instead.

From the networks perspective, surely they get more than a dollar or two in advertising revenue per view, so then it becomes a question of the number of views they get and whether that covers the operational costs. The great thing is that the development costs have already been covered by the broadcast division, so the content is ostensibly free to the online division (with the exception of any royalties they must pay).

This calls into question whether iTunes will really be able to ever succeed in video of any kind, including movies. It is in the networks best interests to host their own content or to host it via a platform that they control. By doing so they not only have the opportunity to increase their revenue, but also to cross-promote - to push people from show to show, or sell DVDs and other merchandise.

Finally, if people consume the content on a platform that they control, the networks have a better opportunity to loyalize consumers and even to elevate their interest to involved fan. If they can elevate their interest from casual viewer to involved fan, they may buy merchandise, but more importantly they are likely to then be worth more in terms of advertising revenue (repeat visits, links out to community sites, etc.).

Hulu.com isn't a revolutionary innovation, but it does bring a few new things to the party when it comes to advertising-supported premium content:
  1. Ability to embed a program in any other site on the web
    • Surprisingly without commercials
    • Also allows you to resize the timebar to create a custom clip
  2. First site to offer movies for free (advertising supported)
  3. At the end of the video clip, it gives you either
    • A link to the show's web site telling you when the show airs
    • A link to Amazon Unbox where you can purchase an episode for $1.99
      • Three formats (computer, TiVo, or portable device)
    • Text saying that people can download or purchase a season (but no link)
Hulu does have the ability to revolutionize the industry in a way that YouTube never will, if they have the vision and the organizational capabilities...

Starting with two major networks' content available gives Hulu the chance to at least try to establish itself as a destination for more than Fox and NBC content, potentially stripping YouTube of its best user-generated and premium content at the same time. Hulu has the chance to establish itself as the platform for introducing all kinds of other advertising-supported premium content:
  1. Television and Movie Back-catalogs
  2. Foreign and independent content (movies, television and shorts)
  3. Public television content
  4. Music videos
  5. Video podcasts
  6. Audio podcasts
  7. Audiobooks
  8. Temporary promotional content (i.e. concert or other live entertainment teasers)
  9. The opportunity to create a new style of infomercial
It will be interesting to see if Hulu seizes the opportunity to create an industry platform instead of just a nice little joint venture. It will also be interesting to see what the effect of Hulu and other premium content sites are on shared networks. I guess we will see.

Do you think Hulu will maintain a closed or open network?

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