Hulu.com is finally going public on Wednesday. After a four-and-a-half-month long public beta, the video site, co-founded and jointly owned by News Corp. and NBC Universal (parent of CNBC), is launching officially.
Now anyone will be able to stream TV shows and movies -- all free and ad-supported. I had an exclusive interview with Hulu.com CEO Jason Kilar, who gave us an early look at the new site. I've been using Hulu.com for months now -- I'm one of the 5 million viewers who watched a video on the beta site in the past thirty days, a sign of the company's potential for success.
The site launches broadly with more than 50 content partners, providing 250 TV series and 100 full-length feature films. The site started with content from (General Electric -owned) NBC Universal's network and cable properties, Fox, as well as MGM and Sony Pictures Television.
Now they're announcing licensing deals with Warner Bros. Television Group, Lionsgate, the NBA, and NHL, as well as full NCAA basketball games from the last 25 years. So that means you can pick between that sports content, and hit shows like The Simpsons, old shows like Miami Vice, and movies like The Big Lebowski -- all on the same site.
And since content doesn't just mean TV and movies anymore, they're also including made-for-the-Internet webisodes from Prom Queen (Michael Eisner's venture) and Onion News Network.
This is certainly a step up from Hulu's early days, when it just had a handful of NBC and Fox episodes. For Hulu to really take off, it's going to need to be a go-to destination for content -- like turning on your TV. And that means getting a lot more content partners -- which Kilar tells me are in the works. For now, it seems to be working -- at least based on the fact that the ad inventory sold out in the beta period, and is selling out now.
Hulu isn't just a destination website -- the company also distributes its shows -- along with the matching ads to partner sites -- AOL, Yahoo , Microsoft's MSN, Comcast's Fancast, and News Corp.'s Myspace. This is part of thht whole "give em what they want, when they want it" theory of new media distribution. And to extend that approach one step further, Hulu encourages users to clip and share pieces of the content on its site. But in an anti-YouTube (owned by Google ) approach, ads follow those clips wherever they go- whether they're embedded on your blog or social networking page.
Hulu has a ways to go, but for now at least, online video ad content is so scarce, that with big advertisers like Best Buy and Unilever already in pocket, it'll have no problem filling its ad time. And to roughly quote "Field of Dreams" -- if they post the content, they (viewers) will come.
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