Hulu's strategy is to not only be a destination, but also a hub for the distribution of content from NBC Universal and News Corp. They do this in two ways: 1. by letting ordinary users embed clips elsewhere on the web, and 2. by partnering with major media sites to deliver commercial content. The result is that consumers have a number of choices for where they can view the content on Hulu.com. We'll take a look at a handful of Hulu-powered sites below, including Hulu itself.Part of
AOL Video was one of the first places Hulu content appeared. Before anyone had even had a look at the Hulu beta test, videos from the service began showing up on AOL. The site is not the most attractive, however, and their content is not complete. For example, AOL video only has 6 episodes of NBC's "Chuck" -- Hulu itself offers 12. Their player is also generally lower quality than the one on Hulu, and clips can't be embedded.
However, the Hulu on AOL user does show nearly 5000 clips, with some of the most viewed receiving over 35,000 views. It may not be "Dick in a Box" on YouTube numbers, but there is no denying that Hulu is effectively getting its content out through the AOL channel. For the Hulu watcher, though, this is not your best option.
Video site Veoh just recently
announced a partnership with Hulu began running Hulu content, though the site has no official partnership with Hulu. Their new TV Shows section, which offers access to 153 shows, is largely powered by Hulu. They too offer less content than Hulu itself, but unlike AOL they're using the actual Hulu player due to using embeds, so quality is higher and embedding by users is possible.
Generally, Veoh is a well designed site that is easy to navigate. The experience, because of the player, is a lot like Hulu. If you're already using Veoh for other things, then it is good place to watch Hulu content. Unfortunately, I was unable to get Hulu content to work through the downloadable Veoh player -- I kept getting an "unknown error." Because of that and the limited content selection, Veoh also probably isn't the best place to consume Hulu videos.
Launched last week, MSN Video Guide is the latest Hulu partner. The site is slick, but when it comes to actually navigating to specific episodes, it falls somewhere in between Veoh (good) and AOL (bad) in terms of usability. Unlike Veoh and AOL, MSN seems to have more Hulu content -- they actually list all 12 available episodes of "Chuck." Oddly, though, many of them arent't available, with the site insisting that "no airings of this episode were found in the next ten days." Huh? Many of the other episodes are only scheduled to be watchable for a short time (i.e., they have a notice like, "Available for 11 more days.")
When you actually do find an episode you can watch, MSN is wrapping it in a smaller player than the one Hulu uses. The result: lower quality and no way to embed -- or even rate and comment. For this reason, MSN is also not the best place to watch Hulu.
MySpace Primetime is where Hulu's catalog resides on the world's largest social networking site. They appear to have the entire Hulu catalog, and though they use their own player, it is better than the ones employed by AOL and MSN. Still though, it isn't up to par with Hulu's own player and embedding isn't allowed.
Hulu content on MySpace is framed in the way that all MySpace video is -- so commenting and rating is the same. Despite MySpace's huge audience, most of the Hulu content doesn't seem to be doing that well. Even for very popular shows like The Simpsons or K'ville (the most popular Hulu show on AOL Video), plays only number in the low hundreds on most clips. We can't help but think that if Hulu content were available on YouTube (the way some NBC content used to be), those hundreds of views would be hudreds of thousands.
The TV section at Fancast, a video web site from Comcast, is mostly powered by Hulu. Our "Chuck" test turned up 9 episodes -- more than AOL, but less than what is actually in Hulu's full catalog. At least we didn't find any videos that had expired or were scheduled to, though.
Fancast also uses its own player. It seems a little better in quality than MySpace (and leagues better than AOL), but still not quite up to par with Hulu. There also isn't any embedding and isn't much in the way of social feature (i.e., no commenting). Fancast might be a good choice for Comcast subscribers, but for anyone else, it isn't the best place to watch Hulu content.
While Hulu is still in an invite only closed beta, some smart people realized that the clips on the site are embeddable. So in order to provide early access to the masses, a handful of sites offer the Hulu catalog via embeds. The most well-known of these is OPENhulu. The site recently received a cease and desist from Hulu and will be changing its name -- to what I'm not sure -- but it is still operational this morning.
Because the site is using embeds, it is using the Hulu player and thus offers more or less the same viewing experience as Hulu itself and, it would seem, the entire catalog without any weird time limits like MSN. Though covered in ads, the design of the site makes it easy to navigate and find videos. When the site changes names, it is also supposedly launching a redesigned version of the UI as well. For now, OPENhulu is the best way to watch Hulu content for anyone who can't get into Hulu itself.
We were, initially underwhelmed by Hulu. But by offering a high quality player, an easy to navigate web site, a large library of recent TV content, and the ability to embed videos, Hulu is beginning to win us over.
There is one thing that you can only get on Hulu: the guarantee that you're getting the most up-to-date library Hulu has to offer. Hulu's player also has at least one nifty feature that the embedded version doesn't offer, a dimmer that dims the rest of your browser screen to make the video stand out. Very cool.
For these reasons, Hulu itself unsurprisingly remains the best place to watch Hulu content.
Note: Hulu content is only available in the US, but some intrepid users have figured out how to trick the system and watch Hulu content outside the United States.