NBC Universal and News Corp.’s long-awaited Hulu.com finally launched in private beta this morning.
I happen to be in Boston hosting and moderating Emerging Media Dynamics’ New Video Summit (sponsored by B&C), and Peter Naylor, senior vice president of digital ad sales was on my panel. Naylor talked a bit about Hulu, as well as NBC U’s overall approach to advertising in this brave new world.
Ironically, when I first heard about Hulu I was hosting a similar panel at the first-ever New Video Summit in San Jose last spring. A Fox executive was on my panel, and she had given me the heads up that News Corp. was about to announce something big. At the time, she wouldn’t give me details but she did tell me about a concept the new venture would use: “super-distribution,” which is a phrase that seems to be making its way into the Web 2.0 lexicon.
Super-distribution is basically the idea of taking one piece of content and distributing it far and wide across the Internet. So, for example, a clever clip from The Office can find itself on all sorts of sites, from AOL to Yahoo! Entertainment to your sister’s MySpace page, accompanied by advertising. That has the effect of allowing many more people to see that one piece of content, and thus increasing its value. Everyone might not check out your sister’s MySpace page, but millions go to Yahoo! every day. While TV audiences are fragmenting, that doesn’t mean audiences’ hunger for content is lessening – it just means they aren’t all necessarily interested in watching one piece of content at one time.
The formation of Hulu – which offers episodes of professionally-produced TV shows and movies from NBC, Fox and now Sony and MGM – demonstrates that these companies get that. If people aren’t going to come watch your show on Mondays at 8, then make it available whenever, wherever. If your content continues to be ad-supported, it shouldn’t matter on what platform people watch it.
The million-dollar question here is what does this mean for free over-the-air TV and the advertisements that finance it? I think the honest answer is that no one knows. Companies are throwing a lot up against the wall right now to see what sticks. Whether TV in five years looks remotely similar to today is anyone’s guess. While the answer to that question is of unending interest to media companies and TV stations, all consumers care about is whether they have anytime, anywhere access to the content they love. Hulu – and other such ventures – is a big step toward that.
Naylor pointed out one (of many, I’m sure) cool feature about Hulu: it’s taking a page from Sling, and letting people cut show clips – think some Dwight Schrute bit from The Office or a withering Alec Baldwin one-liner from 30 Rock – and email them to each other. That might seem minor but it’s smart — it basically grants people a little access to your professionally produced content so they can advertise and market for you for free. That seems like a reasonable exchange to me.