SpoonFed - Dear Hulu: Stop Being Jerks

This is getting out of hand. Hulu—the popular online video site, where more than 40 million surfers a month go to watch such popular shows as The Daily Show and Family Guy with the click of a mouse—seems to be deathly afraid of consumers’ viewing the same content with a remote control or mobile phone. It has blocked access to its site from software such as Boxee, which runs on the desktop and on Apple TV; the PlayStation 3’s Web browser; and, now, the smart phone browser Skyfire. Not only is this behavior unfair to those who use the above products, it gives a good service a bad name.

Well, at least the company is apologetic about its shady business practices. This is the message you now see when you attempt to access Hulu from a smart phone with the Skyfire browser installed: “Unfortunately, this video is not available on your platform. We apologize for any inconvenience.” Excuse me? You’re causing the inconvenience!

Here’s an idea. Why not explain your protectionist stance to your viewers? Be transparent, Hulu, and say, “Our broadcast overlords, who have a major stake in Hulu, don’t want you to cancel your cable subscription.” Yes, Hulu brought in a decent $45 million in 2008, but Screen Digest says that ad-supported online TV revenues will account for only 2.2 percent of all U.S. TV ad revenue within the next four years, not nearly enough to offset the $2 billion loss expected during that time.

Or, maybe Hulu can say, “We want to control the user experience, and for consumers to use—and eventually pay for—only our applications.” For example, Hulu recently launched a slick Adobe Air application for the desktop that looks a lot like the Boxee app it shunned. And there are rumors that Hulu wants to roll out apps (on its own terms) for both set-top boxes such as the Roku Digital Video Player and other devices like the iPhone. That way Hulu could more easily transition to a paid-content model with a monthly subscription fee.

Like all of the content providers that have been giving away the store and are now doing some serious soul-searching, I know that you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. But you can’t go around throwing up roadblocks to a site that should be accessible from any device that supports Flash. It’s time to make up your mind, Hulu. Either keep your service free and find a way to charge more advertising bucks for all the extra eyeballs you could be attracting on other devices, or make people pony up for your service.

In the meantime, Hulu, don’t prevent gadgets other than computers from tuning in as you tweak your business plan. In case you need a refresher, consider your own stated goal: “Hulu’s mission is to help people find and enjoy the world’s premium video content when, where and how they want it.”

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.