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Hulu: If You Can't License 'Em, Link to 'Em

3/13/2008 11:47 AM

Hulu.com, as if you hadn’t heard, launched this week with content from some 50 partners including, natch, its parents Fox and NBC Universal.

In its press release, the Hulu crew ticked off a bunch of new deals ("more than 20"), saved up for max impact at launch: Warner Bros. Television Group, Lionsgate, the NBA, the NHL and others.

Anyway, it seems like everybody who’s written a story about Hulu needs to point out that it has gaps in its goal of offering a one-stop of online video entertainment: The venture lacks content distribution deals with, among others, TV biggies like Disney-ABC, CBS, Viacom and Turner Broadcasting System. The stories then typically note that some of those content owners are said to be in discussions with the Hulu team.

Until the Huluans ink those deals, they’re resorting to good old-fashioned hyperlinks.

Hulu.com has "deep links," which shuttle users off to external Web video players, to thousands of video clips from TV programmers with which it has no formal deals. 

You can find links to shows and clips from ABC (e.g., Desperate Housewives and Lost), CBS (Amazing Race) and Viacom properties like Nickelodeon (SpongeBob), Comedy Central (Daily Show) and VH1 (Flavor of Love) and Turner networks like TBS (Frank TV).

Of course, Hulu doesn’t promote this fact. They don’t really get anything from sending folks away.

But if by chance you’ve searches for "Desperate Housewives," you won’t be disappointed with a "Sorry, no results" screen. The idea, too, is to convey the sense that Hulu at least can help you find whatever you’re looking for, even if it can’t serve it up directly.

I like the site. It’s easy to use, and it’s fun. Even the error message if you link to a bad URL is fun. Instead of the usual boring "404" page, Hulu serves up a video montage of Homer Simpson saying "D’oh!"

Is the selection on Hulu slim pickings? I guess. But my bigger problem isn’t with the content selection on Hulu per se. It’s that I just can’t get used to the computer as a video entertainment device. To me, a computer is an information tool. 

I’d watch The Big Lebowski on Hulu if I’m up at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. But my cable would have to be out, and my DVR would have to be hosed. Otherwise I just can’t force myself to sit still that long, passively staring at a computer screen.

No doubt, way back when TV itself was brand-new, some old-timer couldn’t stand to stare at flickering images on a dumb piece of glass.

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