Friends of Hulu

I got my pass to the beta version of Hulu, the NBC/Fox online TV system, a while back, but have only just gotten to take it out for a spin. They have a combination of full current/recent shows, old shows from the catalog, and clips from clippable shows. They’ve got the uncensored version of SNL‘s “D– in a Box” song and the still-censored version of Playboy photo shoots from The Girls Next Door. Oh, and they have some feature films.
The basic problem with taking it for a spin before now is that, well, it’s on my computer. And these days, I’m rarely watching TV without multitasking on the computer. I prefer to have my TV shows on the TV; once they solve that problem of the last three feet, internet video will rule.
To take it for a test-spin, I tried the first episode of the recent Sci-Fi channel miniseries Tin Man. (I’m still on my no-watching-the-SciFi-channel stance, because they aired a “psychic” fraudster for so long – but I guess it can’t count as a strong protest if I end up watching their shows on Hulu or slowly going through Battlestar via Netflix.) It’s one of those revised-take-on-Oz things. “So what would it be like if the version of Oz we’re used to is just analogies? So what if we made ‘Scarecrow’ a man who had his brain removed? So what if the Wizard was stoned?” The various, seemingly random revisions not only fail to leave much of a core, but they also don’t leave any consistency. There are failed attempts at whimsy, failed attempts at seriousness, lines that were clearly written to be comedic but which don’t fit in to the actual. There are some good actors (I love Neal McDonough when he has material to work with, which he doesn’t here), but only Richard Dreyfus as the Wizard stand-in actually pulls anything from this mess. It fails to build an integrated world view, an integrated whole, and just left me saying “so what?”
As for the Hulu operation itself, it went rather smoothly. Things open up in a quarter-of-the-screen-sized window, but with a button click they do go to full screen, only a mite fuzzy. I didn’t find the interface problematic; I was able to rewind a bit when I needed to, and the controls disappear when you’re not mousing around. There’s a timeline which shows you when the ads are going to pop up, and bless ’em, at this point the ad breaks are a mere 15 seconds, which means that this episode, which I presume was 2 hours when originally aired, flew by in less than an hour and a half. (But make no mistake, there are ads, and the space is there to put more. There will be money in this, and the WGA would be foolish to not negotiate a cut for the writers.)
This is not to say that all was flawless. For some reason, the ads kept coming in a few seconds before they were supposed to, which meant that the episode would stop abruptly, the ad would run, then the last few seconds and fade out and fade in again.
Some of the ads left a lingering logo or clickable link for a few seconds after show restarted. I didn’t mind that too much. But the SciFi channel bug on the corner of the screen at all times was distracting. I understand those bugs on broadcast, so you can recognize when you’ve found the right channel when scanning, but I’d much rather they threw in a couple of 15 seconds ads for SciFi channel shows and left them off the screen. I’ve also now “watched” an episode of Nanny and the Professor, a sitcom I enjoyed as a wee Nat. I let it run in the background, just listening to it whilst working on something else on my computer. There were other shows on their list which I’d hoped to be able to run similarly in the background, but it turned out that their Inside The Actors Studio content was just a handful of clips.
Not that their pickings aren’t slim even on the shows they carry. On some they just carry the first five episodes (or, with Nanny and the Professor, episodes 2-15), on others the first five from each season, on others all of season 1. This makes it a resource, and a worthwhile one, but a limited one. But it;s just starting out; let’s see where it heads!

Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 2:40 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey Nat, one quick question about the ads — do they show a variety of ads? That’s one thing that gets me in a lot of new media advertising, they’ll keep replaying the same ad, sometimes I’ll see the same one three times in watching the same show. Since that seems to miss the advantage of advertising on new media (namely, that the audience is more likely to be paying attention and doesn’t need to be shown the exact same message ten times to see it once) as well as making audiences dislike ads in online video.

  2. They don’t have a variety of advertisers; each show had only one or two (Nissan and Intel come to mind). I’m pretty sure that the individual advertisers varied the ad within the show, but I’ll confess to not paying that close attention (particularly since I was only listening to some shows.)

    I listened to a WKRP episode the other day. Alas, it had blatant replacement music, pure needle-drop garbage, but it only hit one scene.

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