Hulu, the joint Web video venture that NBC Universal and Fox launched to great fanfare last March, is slated for a full public launch tomorrow. Hulu has been available as an invite-only, private beta service since October.
Unlike YouTube, the overwhelming leader in online video, Hulu only offers professional content. Since its inception, Hulu has been working to build content partnerships to expand its catalog of TV shows, feature films and video clips, which it streams for free, supported by pre-roll and mid-roll ads.
Hulu videos also show up on thousands of external Web sites, including AOL, Comcast, MySpace and Yahoo.
For what it does — offer a large and growing trove of premium, recently aired television content for free, and legally — Hulu is remarkable. Though the company is still courting ABC and CBS as content partners, Hulu has quadrupled the size of its catalog since it began testing, CEO Jason Kilar told *The New York Times*.
People have complained that the streaming quality could be improved, and warned that its business model is at constant risk because it doesn’t own any of the content on its site. This means that when a TV company is ready to release a season’s worth of episodes on DVD, there’s nothing to stop it from yanking the shows off of Hulu.
It’s also true that Hulu has long ridden a wave of hype, and it’s far from clear if the economics are on its side. Taking a step back to look at the macro trends at work here, however, Hulu still seems like a great idea. The amount of video that people watch online is increasing dramatically, growth which shows no signs of falling off. Advertisers are fast realizing that video ads are more engaging than static display ads, and are willing to pay more for those type of placements. Now launches Hulu, with a repository of premium content that viewers (U.S. only, for now) can watch for free.
Now that it’s opening its doors to the public, the story of Hulu will begin in earnest. As Hulu continues to forge new content partnerships, its success or failure could become a telling chapter in the larger drama of the new entertainment economy being born from the convergence of old and new media.