Monday, April 6, 2009

Hulu's Media Coverage

I'm finally done with this (very procrastinated) midterm. It's due in less than four hours.

We were asked to select one theme or issue and carefully explain the status of this issue as of January, and how it has evolved since. We were also asked to ponder why is this issue important, and what does it suggest about the future of digital media?

Here is my 600-some-odd word answer:

Much before the inception of this course in January, Hulu has been growing and building its cache memory and expanding the amount of content it makes available to the connected Internet public for free. Hulu is doing this in cooperation with NBC, Comedy Central, PBS, USA, Sundance, Oxygen, and several other network and cable companies to provide content with advertising for free to anyone with broadband Internet access. In fact, Hulu began its venture in mid-2007 to act as a syndication site and alternative to the television broadcast model of linear programming; noting this, the site has effectively been in “business” for two years now. The term “business” is in quotations because Hulu is not literally selling anything to the user; Hulu is merely presenting content free of charge with the occasional commercial interruption. This business model, although not allowing any user-related creativity or “remixing” capabilities, is functioning on the level of the hybrid that Lawrence Lessig discusses in his book Remix in that it is providing a free service to the user by effectively monetizing through the sales of advertising spots.

During the Superbowl on February 1st, 2009, among the slue of advertisements for soft drinks and cars, Hulu enlisted the talents of actor Alec Baldwin to act as spokesperson for the site, airing Hulu’s first ever television spot. Several blogs (throughout the semester, I’ve been following IWantMedia and MediaBistro) and the Monday New York Times Business section either announced that this ad would be airing or included review of the tone of and/or the significance of the advertisement in an editorial article. Essentially taking the stance that Hulu’s eventual take over is inevitable, Baldwin (and, in effect, Hulu speaking through Baldwin) asks the question: “What are you going to do? Turn off your TV and your computer?”

Since this “evil plot to destroy the world” advertised during one of the largest media events (short of the Oscars) of the year in February and thus graced the pages of the NYT and blogging sites, it seems as though Hulu will be a mainstay not only on our computer screens but also in the news media: at least weekly, if not daily, bloggers on both IWantMedia and MediaBistro have some tidbit of news to share about Hulu, the television industry, and the recent battle with Boxee technology, a tower and essential hard drive that can reroute content wirelessly to any screen in one’s household. Since sharing television screen time with cable- and network-provided television content is not Hulu’s aim (Hulu works in direct agreement and correlation with networks and cable providers) Hulu adamantly opposes this idea, as stated in a February 23rd article in the New York Times Business section. Only two weeks later, it was announced that with Boxee’s clever ab/use of RSS technology, it looks as though there is no way to avoid the shifting of content from screen to screen.

It should be noted that other Hulu rivals such as Sling and are no where near as prevalent in the reviewed news and information corpus as is the Hulu content giant.

As recently as March 30th, Disney announced that it wanted to take part in Hulu’s cache of programming. Considering the way that ABC and Disney are laid out as a business, this move to include sacred House of Mouse content on a free site is huge, and reflects the potential future of Hulu as the ultimate online content provider. This certainly proves the sentiment that distribution and not content is the true king. With Hulu acquiring more and more content by the week, it’s no surprise that theirs is the model with the most success. And the fact that they are providing this free content legally should serve as a model for other wannabe hybrids to come.

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