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July 30, 2015

Top TV Stories of 2007: Hulu and the furthering of Internet Convergence

by Jay Black, posted Dec 26th 2007 8:00AM
I got this picutre from Chuck. I would have preferred to use the one where the hot blonde chick is dressed like Princess Leia.
The future is insanely hard to predict. For instance, when DARPA first created what would later be called "the internet," all they were trying to do was build a communication infrastructure that could reliably deliver porn after World War III. Had they known that a) World War III was only going to happen in 80s nuclear war movies and b) the internet would eventually bring about a disastrous television writers' strike, they might have dumped the money into some other crazy 60s idea. Weather control, maybe.

They couldn't have guessed where their research would lead, however, so here we are in 2007 with a vast interconnected network that exists pretty much so that people can argue as to the exact point The Simpsons stopped being good. As the internet evolves, though, it's beginning to realize its potential as a content delivery system.

I'm gonna be honest here: I'm pretty sure that "Internet Convergence" will be a Top TV story for 2007, 2008, 2009, and beyond. While every single network and YouTube imitator out there is throwing content online like Lew Zealand throws fish, none of them really has an idea how to actually, you know, make money at it. Sure, Google gets you a few cents here and there, and iTunes is good for a couple bucks, but TV is used to Hollywood money. And Hollywood money, we all know from watching Entourage, is ridiculous money. It's going to take a method for making ridiculous money to stop TV and the internet from converging and get it to just be converged.

That being said, 2007 was a kind of critical mass year. Suddenly, the idea of getting a show on your computer at a date and time different from that dictated by the network wasn't just for guys in IT. Even people like my father, for whom computers exist solely so he can play online poker and NASA astronauts can figure a way to put Tang into orbit, were made aware that downloading TV was at least an option.

The "big" news this year was that NBC and Fox got together to deliver content directly to the consumer, without the interference of Apple and iTunes. Their new venture is called Hulu, and it delivers on its promise to provide content for "anyone, anywhere." (That is of course, if you define "anywhere" as the United States, and "anyone" as those who were invited to the beta test).

For the networks, Hulu puts them back into their comfort zone of ad-based revenue. Whereas iTunes sold you a license to download an episode for a paltry $1.99, Hulu is streaming only, with ads included. With iTunes, once you pay for your purchase, you can put the commercial-free show on your ipod or on your television via your Apple TV. With Hulu, you can, uh, sit in front of your computer and watch the show with commercial interruption. Behold the future!

While it's a shaky first step, Hulu's existence means that the powers-that-be are, for the first time, taking seriously the idea that the internet is a capable content-delivery system. I get the feeling that the original iTunes deals were signed in the same way sub-prime mortgage deals were signed, without being read and without one thought at all about the future. As the networks wise up, it's a fair bet that Hulu won't be the last network-owned video on demand service.

The big elephant in the room, of course, and the thing that makes moot a lot of this discussion, is illegal file-sharing. The phrase "I'll just get the torrent" is one that I'm sure haunts the nightmares of any network executive young enough to know what it means. The fact that Hulu exist shows that they're aware of the problem. The limitations and prices they're insisting on, however, also shows that while they're not quite as dumb as the RIAA, they've still got a long way to go to produce a profit center that can also compete with "free".

I'm not 100% sure where I stand on the idea of stealing television. Like a lot of you, when I steal music, I console myself with the idea that the people I'm stealing from are not the artists, but the record executives who only use the money to buy coke and drink baby's blood. The artists, I tell myself as I fill my hard drive, will make their money on the live shows. Records, so says my elaborate self-deception, are promotional tools only.

The same guilt-avoiding gymnastics can't be made when it comes to television. For TV production, there really aren't any other streams of revenue. If you're not watching a show along with its advertising or purchasing it online or on DVD, then the people involved with the show aren't making anything. Whereas music theft is kinda stealing, television theft is actually stealing.

But, even though I don't want to steal, sometimes it's the best option. This is lunacy. Imagine if, right outside the oven store, there was a stand where a guy was giving ovens away for free! As an upstanding citizen, you might walk into the store to buy an oven the right way, but the second you run into even the most minor inconvenience -- a rude employee, a long line -- you'd be right out at the stand picking out your free appliance.

This is where we are when it comes to the internet and television. The convergence is a good one, but the networks, as witnessed by Hulu, are still treating us as if we have no other options. We're, it seems, a long way off from what iTunes initially promised us -- a one stop, cheaply priced, high-quality television store.

For further reading on the convergence of TV and the internet check out:

Amazon Unbox

Where do you think future of TV on the internet will be?
On iTunes (or some other 3rd party one-stop platform)20 (30.8%)
Hulu (or some other network-owned platform)25 (38.5%)
I don't think there is a future. Torrents will ruin the business model and we'll all be stuck watching YouTube clips of people skateboarding for our entertainment.14 (21.5%)
Other (list in the comments)6 (9.2%)

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I hope some day the industry will realize that the internet does not stop at the border. I'm in Holland, and I wanted to watch Dexter. And what do you know, I did watch Dexter.

December 30 2007 at 10:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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