Home Hulu: Ugly Duckling No More

Hulu: Ugly Duckling No More

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since Hulu – the joint online video venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. – began streaming content. Its initial reception, after months of anticipation and a good helping of ridicule, was less than warm. Old media companies trying to take on YouTube? Were they serious?

Clearly, they were. Fast forward to today – a year after the company released its private beta – and you’ll hear a completely different story about Hulu. How did we get here? Let’s take a look back at Hulu’s first year.

Inauspicious Beginnings

News of the yet-unnamed Hulu began attracting attention in March of 2007 as the stealth project that proposed to bring two competing traditional media companies together to compete against the threat of new media. And things got even more interesting as they partnered with AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! as initial distribution partners.

In June 2007, without a product or a name, Hulu was once again in the news as they announced the appointment of Jason Kilar – a seasoned Amazon.com veteran – as the CEO who would bring Hulu to fruition.

Unfortunately for Hulu, Kilar’s pedigree didn’t slow the onslaught. By August, the few barbs and critiques had grown into a torrent of insults heaped upon the fledging company. And announcing the name “Hulu” certainly didn’t help matters as a whole new series of posts poked fun at the much ballyhooed yet unseen service.

Early Reviews

Finally, in October 2007 when the service appeared in private beta, we – and many others – were less than impressed:

“Let’s be honest: there’s nothing courageous or innovative about Hulu – the whole project is quite the opposite in fact. Huge media is exposing its crown jewels to the web because it has to – much as they wish it wasn’t, this internet thing is real. The initial offering that Hulu is bringing to market is shamefully uninspiring and woefully inadequate for a new world of media.”

But still, it had momentum. We were allowed to offer 2,500 people access to the private beta, as were a number of other tech blogs. People were trying Hulu. And they seemed to be liking it. So much so, in fact, that even in private beta, at the beginning of 2008, Hulu managed to walk away with the inaugural Crunchies award for “Best Video Site.”

Finally, in March of this year, the service opened to the US-based public allowing US residents to get a glimpse of what Hulu had to offer.

The Tide Begins to Turn

A few months later, Hulu – despite its US-centric format – had rapidly become the 13th most watched video site and was boasting consistent growth each month.

In July 2008, it became clear that the old guard had something that was even more valuable than well-produced content: business savvy. At that point, Hulu was projected to earn roughly $90 million in revenue in its first year.

In September 2008, Hulu continued to roll when a report by online video ad network LiveRail revealed that “both YouTube and Hulu could see roughly the same revenues in the U.S. this year.”

Suddenly, taking on YouTube didn’t seem so foolish anymore.

A New “New Media” Media Darling

And now, Hulu has transformed from its ugly-duckling beginnings to become a swan of a service, deserving of lengthy features and complimentary exposes in the likes of publications like Wired and The New York Times.

In fact, Hulu’s continually impressive performance led NYT to state:

“While Hulu was not the first site to serve up full-length television shows or create new advertising units, it now dominates the emerging market for ad-supported TV and movie streaming.”

No doubt, Hulu is on a roll. Their traffic numbers continue to prove it with September garnering them a “52.5% month over month increase in traffic.”

But the icing on the cake for Hulu? The US Presidential elections and the Saturday Night Live skits that poked fun at them. The “Lazy Sunday” effect that propelled YouTube into the public consciousness is reaping similar rewards for Hulu – who actually owns the rights to distribute the content – with Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations helping attract more visitors to Hulu than to the live late-night Saturday broadcasts.

Ugly Duckling No More

It’s been quite a year for Hulu – and for those of us covering its fits, starts, and successes. Given the success they’ve seen with the rockiest of launches, it will be extremely interesting to see what Hulu does in its second year. Long story short, people love Hulu. Certainly, if its current momentum holds, the next year for Hulu will be far from a case of the “terrible twos.”

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