From the start Hulu looked like a dog, but its copying of the private beta hype approach practically patented by dot com startups, a website with an easy access and viewing interface and a pretty decent library, has made quite a bit of difference. As has Hulu’s willingness to syndicate its content via MSN and AOL video and Comcast’s Fancast. But can Hulu survive?
The key problem facing Hulu is still financing. In the last 30 days Hulu had 5 million visitors, which would have been a slow day for Stage6, which recently had to shut down. Hulu is smarter about advertising and has the leverage of its corporate parents, but it needs to find an answer to the diminishing online ad returns and Hulu itself may be nothing more than a fairly capable experiment in approaches for solving that question. Which may be one reason not to get too attached to it. (Keep in mind that networks regularly spend 12 million dollars a pop for experiments with a new series alone.)
With Hulu out of beta and no longer closed, it will no doubt get traffic. But Hulu’s content will continue having to compete with itself. Maximizing ad revenue means blocking foreign visitors, but those foreigners viewers go on to generate the rips of episodes distributed across video sharing sites such as YouTube and Veoh. If foreign viewers can’t see the episode, they’ll simply go on pirating it, which means that even with Hulu streaming free episodes, it will go on having to compete with those same episodes illegally uploaded on YouTube.