Friday, November 25, 2011

Why I can't recommend Hulu Plus

You have to feel a little sympathetic to Hulu. It's trying (or claiming to be trying) to do the right thing, make TV content legally available online in a way that satisfies the conflicting demands of content creators and people like you and me. To that end, it's produced a fairly pleasant Flash based website that streams a large chunk of what's on TV to any PC webbrowser, supported by relatively short ads, for free.

But there are limitations. Hulu has said it doesn't like them, for example, the fact that the free version of Hulu can't be accessed from mobile devices has to do with the arcane licensing issues Hulu has to deal with.

To that end, Hulu decided to create a premium version that supposedly deals with the licensing issues. People who subscribe to Hulu Plus get more content, and get the ability to see it on mobile devices.

Except... there are two major catches.

The first is we're paying for this service, and it's still infested with ads. Infact, my wife and I counted five breaks during a 22 minute long TV show. To make matters worse, most of the ads are the same, which becomes monotonous after a while. Now, I have no problem in principle with serving ads to free users. But I'm paying for this. Why is this acceptable?

And to those at Hulu who argue that I don't pay enough, who's fault is that? You set the subscription fee. It's not as if there was some negotiation where I said "I'm sorry, I'm willing to buy this, but not willing to spend more than $9 a month." You never even asked. Frankly, even at $9 a month, I don't want ads. But I've never said I'm unwilling to pay more than that.

Ads every four to five minutes is simply not acceptable. It makes the service physically unpleasant to use. The extra content is not desirable if I don't want to use the service to watch it.

The second major catch? The mobile devices thing is crap.

There's an obvious way to implement "Make it available on mobile devices" which is this: stop blocking them. If I'm using a mobile webbrowser with a full version of Flash, there's no reason to stick code in your app preventing me from using it to watch content if I'm a subscriber and if you claim that the entire point of Hulu Plus is to cover that whole "We can't do this due to licensing."

But that would interfere, I suspect, with Hulu's desire to see revenue from "exclusive deals" with tablet makers. So Hulu Plus is only available if a tablet or phone maker has paid Hulu. Again, there's no way around it. You can't even buy the Hulu Plus client. It's either available, if you have a tithed device, or it isn't.

You're asking me to pay what for what? Not going to do it. I pay less for Amazon Prime, get free two day shipping on other stuff I buy, get to borrow books on my Kindle, and don't get ads. The content isn't as full as I'd like, but on the other hand, I can easily chuck a few extra dollars Amazon's way for content that's outside of the free sandpit. And it's worth spending that money because, well, it's actually watchable content. Content I can watch anywhere, even on my mobile devices.

If you want me to buy or recommend Hulu Plus, you need to make it what a sane, reasonable, person would expect it to be. If that means charging a little more, or charging for the Hulu Plus app, then that's fine. That's what you should be doing. Providing half the product that people expect it to be for half the price isn't delivering a bargain, it's just being dishonest.

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