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Hulu Getting Social On Its Birthday

Today is Hulu's first birthday and, to celebrate this milestone, its parents (NBC Universal and News Corp) have decided its now old enough....for social networking.

As a devoted user of the service, I'm psyched. I already use the site to find a buzzed-about segment from Saturday Night Live or catch up on "The Office" on the road. But now, Hulu is glomming onto the trend du jour, allowing everyone to access the "Hulu Friends" feature that taps into Facebook and MySpace profiles, allowing users to share and recommend clips to friends. This is far easier than demanding users input all their friends info, as Netflix's social network does. Tapping into existing social networks should guarantee much larger success.

I think it's got a real shot at success. I haven't tried to share a SNL clip yet, but if Hulu makes it easy enough, the site's inventory of comedic content lends itself particularly well to the social format. Imagine if Hulu had the "Friends" capability during the presidential campaign — I can only imagine how many people would have shared Sarah Palin clips with their friends.

And Hulu Friends is also good news for Hulu's ad model; allowing it to target ads based on personal information posted on Facebook profile pages. You have to register to access Hulu Friends, which means the site will know exactly who's watching what.

I commend arch rivals News Corp and NBC Universal for teaming up on the digital distribution venture that is an undisputed success. I think the company could even get away with putting more ads on each streaming TV show. And in light of the ongoing doom and gloom about the future of the media industry (declining ad revenues, piracy, etc etc), Hulu provides optimism as a viable model for the future. Yes, the site still has a ways to go, ideally it would offer all media giants' content, but it's certainly a commendable start.

If Hulu's going to really change the business and consumption of online video, here's what I think the company needs to do:

1) Get more content, from all the media giants. Hulu has more than 140 content providers and 1,150 show titles, but it faces comptetition from CBS' TV.com and even YouTube, which continues to add professionally-created content.

2) Make it really easy to tap into friend networks and to share. Don't make users input any additional info.

3)Get smart about ads. I don't want to see the same commercial repeated multiple times over the course of a half-hour sitcom.But I wouldn't mind another thirty seconds of commercials. Show me ads that I'll really care about, and mix them up.

Oh, and Nielsen Online's VideoCensus also gave Hulu a nice birthday present, dubbing it the number 2 video site in the U.S. behind YouTube.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.