Hulu coming out of the gates

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Hulu is finally out in private beta. They were struggling to reach the deadline and it looks like they made it. I got my name on the list, but we’ll see when/if I ever get called. Now if they’d just change the name. What the crap is hulu anyway?As for the content on Hulu, TV shows will come from Fox and NBC, and over fifteen cable channels including Bravo, E!, FX, SciFi, Sundance, and USA. Movies will come from Fox and Universal, and following a deal signed just this Friday, from Sony and MGM as well. Hulu says many of its short clips will come from independent content providers, and it’s also signing licensing deals with others such as Smithsonian and the WWE.

In terms of availability, Hulu as a website will not be available to the public for another few months. It’s collection, however, will be rolled out on its partners’ websites over this coming week so we can expect to see most, if not all, of Hulu’s content on AOL, MSN, MySpace, Comcast, and Yahoo very soon. Just when particular videos will be available through Hulu – and how long we can expect them to stay on Hulu – will vary from video to video. However, as a general rule TV shows will be available on Hulu at midnight Hawaii time after they debut on normal television. As another general rule, Hulu will keep distributing TV shows until five weeks of newer episodes have passed, at which point older shows will presumably just disappear from the site.

The experience is entirely browser-based so there is no software to install beyond Flash player, which you probably already have. Hulu has done a good job keeping the user interface simple and highlighting the actual content of the site. The videos themselves are streamed at either 480kbps or 700kbps depending on your bandwidth, and Hulu is working with Adobe to provide even higher resolutions through Flash Player 9.2 by the end of the year.

Finally, some important information about how Hulu plans to advertise. While we can’t be certain just how advertising affects the user experience without trying Hulu ourselves, Hulu reps say that advertising will be much less intrusive than on actual television. Ads will be served in a variety of ways: banners that display alongside videos, text blurbs that overlay the bottom of videos, and in-video clips that play before, within, and after videos. Shorter videos will have more overlays and banner ads, whereas longer videos will play more in-video commercials. Hulu says that for longer videos, the total playback time dedicated to advertisements will be drastically lowered, perhaps constituting only 25% of the time you’d spend watching ads on TV. Thus, for every 30 minutes of video, you may only see 2 minutes of ads, whereas on TV you would see 8 minutes. If this is true, then Hulu will certainly be more consumer-friendly than TV.

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