Hulu is doomed, but that’s a good thing

7 11 2009

Hulu is a great idea. Offering free content on the Internet is the only way to compete with, well, free video content on YouTube and available through pirating Web site. Unfortunately, whereas Hulu was positioned to be the Trojan Horse for network television on the Internet, it will instead be the scapegoat for the networks’ failures.

In and All Thing D article, outgoing chief of CBS Digital, Quincy Smith said,

“I don’t hate Hulu. Hulu’s world-class video viewing. What I don’t understand is, why license all that content to something that works that well, that seamlessly, yet–without the economic model around it?”

Smith is mistaken if he thinks the free-for-all market opportunities on the Internet will match that of television. While the Internet provides networks access to broader audiences, it presents a different market where consumers have real buying power in the form of access and choice. Not all products have equal success in different markets anyway. What makes Apple successful in the U.S., doesn’t necessarily make it successful in Europe or Asia. Television networks should recognize that they don’t have an upper-hand on the Internet because they can’t limit access to content the way they do with broadcast scheduling. Hulu is a $700 million market, but television comes in at $120 billion. OK. Maybe $700 million isn’t so bad on the Internet, and the networks should accept that.

Of course, they don’t. They’re greed-driven and blind to the differences between broadcast television and Internet markets.

Here’s a dumb idea (via Chase Carey, chief operating officer of News Corp.) for how to make Hulu more profitable: Go with a mix of paid and free content. Yeah, ask The New York Times about how that worked out. It didn’t. People will continue to visit Hulu, but they’ll just watch the free stuff. At least the Times had an edge in value with its paid content being intellectual property (columns) and access to unique news reporting. Hulu would just be charging for people to watch reruns.

Hulu’s model will likely change to some kind of paid service, because Wall Street said so, and will (unfortunately) fail for two reasons:

Legacy – People who use Hulu today haven’t had to pay before and they like that. Few will pay if they’re asked to because they’re die-hard fans of particular programming or are moralists. The rest will move to a competing station’s free content (Where’s HBO at?) or to the pirated content they probably already consumed before Hulu.

Everyone remembers Napster, right? That little site single-handedly changed the music economy (albeit illegally), and paved the way for online retailers like iTunes to top sales over big box brick-and-mortar stores. Now, iTunes is a paid service, but it started that way. Napster tried to transition from a pirating service to a legitimate paid service and has barely managed to stay afloat as a business or in consumer mindshare. A new service (maybe iTunes itself) can enter the market and dominate television with a paid model, but no free service can make the transition to a paid service and have success. Hulu won’t. Consumers don’t have an appetite for that.

People won’t pay double – You know what consumers really don’t have an appetite for? Paying for the same service twice. Yuck. A lot of people who consume content on Hulu probably already have at least a basic cable subscription. They probably access Hulu to watch a missed episode or pass the time on lunch breaks. These people will not pay to watch NBC of Fox twice over. It’s uneconomical from a consumer perspective. They’ll just be more punctual with DVR scheduling.

It’s too bad that Hulu is doomed to fail because it’s a fine a corporate media service. Its success attracting viewers may actually be reasonable by Internet monetization standards. Unfortunately, the network executives have their broadcast television goggles on and with their false expectations will change Hulu in the direction of its demise.

That’s a good thing though. It took Napster to get the music industry to change (or crash, depending on who you ask), and Hulu will be the scapegoat for networks and sacrificial lamb for a reasonable, mainstream Internet television service.


A picture’s worth the same as words online

4 11 2009

I’ve never read graphic novels, but I read my share of comics and comic books when I was young. I don’t at all believe that text is the “currency of storytelling.” Rather, I think that both text and image are equal partners. More often than not text is a more efficient, effective way of telling a story (and more easily distributed, even in the digital age), but that shouldn’t at all devalue the impact of images in storytelling.

When thinking about mainstream forms of storytelling, I see text and images taking different roles. In most online journalism, text drives storytelling while images are complementary. In broadcast journalism, images drive the storytelling while text (as audio) is complementary. The same goes for movies. As distribution methods become more accessible, I believe that images (whether they be graphics, illustrations, movies, etc.) will become more prevalent. Already, the Web’s largest storytelling site – YouTube – is all visual and contains relatively no text.

Drew’s question about how the Web interface affects the user experiences is a relevant one. It allows for infinitely deep, non-linear experiences. Every story can become a “choose-your-own-adventure.” It creates greater opportunities than traditional print storytelling mediums to include imagery of any form.  Amateur storytellers are using photos on blogs, Twitter and Facebook to tell their stories, especially when digital cameras and smartphones provide easy ways to upload photos and share. News sites are creating rich graphic illustrations to explain, for example, urban architecture proposals or the anatomy of a virus.

Graphic novels are a primitive form of telling stories with imagery compared to the possibilities today, but both reinforce that images are a primary rather than secondary force of storytelling.

The future of social media is, well, social

27 10 2009

Social media a flash in the pan? Say it ain’t so, Drew.

I believe the opposite will occur. Social media won’t be a flash, it will be a light bulb. Just as we flick a switch and expect a light bulb to turn on, so will we expect social media to be readily available anytime, anywhere when we flick the switch that is our Internet connection. It will become so ingrained that we won’t think of it as any separate form of communication at all.

For years we’ve been able to blog and email and generally leverage digital communications to be social. We’re just now recognizing this activity as a unique phenomenon and branding it accordingly. Twitter, Facebook and the like are just organized, centralized places to have conversations using basic communications forms – digitized type, images, audio and video. The only thing new here is how we can so easily share the conversations.

What does this mean for communications professionals thriving or drowning in what social media is today? The same as if social media went away like a flash in the pan. “Social media” experts will be about as sought after as typists because all digital properties – from news sites to product pages – will soon be inherently social. Especially as social media sites act less as destinations and more as services (The first steps of this evolution are Facebook Connect and Google SideWiki) we’ll rely less on those centralized locations at Facebook or Twitter and look more to have conversations at socialized Web sites (think Web 3.0) that work with what we know now as our Facebook or Google profiles to organize the conversations.

As social media become decentralized and turns the Internet into one huge forum where anyone can comment anywhere, communications professionals will no longer focus on isolated sites and conversations and have to think about broader communications strategies. Businesses will continue to need help navigating a digital communications landscape without boundaries, and communications professionals will have greater opportunities to access consumer perspectives with those walls torn down, which will hopefully result in better products and services to come.

When I grow up, I want to be what I am today, a communications professional. I think what comes of social media will make this career path more steady and sought after.

He’s a columnist, he’s an actor, he’s Pogue

20 10 2009

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue provides an entertaining example of how traditional media outlets can deliver video.

Most great columnists have a pronounced tone of voice and identifiable writing styles in their articles. Pogue is no exception, and he manages to translate these qualities into his videos. Each week, he contributes a print column, an e-mail column and an online video, and in my opinion his videos are his most compelling product.

His videos usually weave humor and concrete analysis. He shoots himself in singular locations but with several different angles, limited soundtracks and frequent sound effects (crack, boom, bang). While the quality of his videos is usually low by industry standards, they are wildly popular because of their humor and Pogue’s ability to create engaging stories within the format. The amateurish qualities of the shots actually help the videos as they create a contrast between the professional columnist and his chosen delivery method – akin to a famous chef like Mario Batali filming food tips at a McDonald’s.

Take, for example, his video “The Great Netbook Compromise.” The video features limited locations off a highway, cheesy acting and great comedy. None of this could be accomplished in his written work, and he still manages to educate viewers about the good and bad of laptop form factors. When the iPhone came out, his review of the revolutionary device stepped apart from others’ reviews and even their unboxing videos because he created a larger narrative around the review. In his video, “The iPhone Challenge: Keep It Quiet,” he poked fun at Apple’s secrecy, posturing its PR team like Secret Service agency protecting a device that threatened national security if it was discovered. Viewers enjoyed a short, funny narrative combined with an important device review.

As mainstream media increasingly looks to video to deliver stories, Pogue provides a great example of how to take advantage of the medium. Rather than just retell his written stories, he optimizes what video offers him and actually acts to embellish the story and make it what it’s often not in print – entertaining.

Free or not to free (content)? That is the question

13 10 2009

I have a vague understanding of Chris Anderson’s “Free”. I got half way through the (free) eBook before I was too distracted by (free) kitten fights videos on YouTube, which I found far more digestible at the time.

I recall Anderson arguing that costs of digital production and distribution are driven so low that digital content (newspapers, music, etc.) will always skew toward free or near-free costs for consumers.

Hopefully that’s close enough.

I had previously read Malcolm Gladwell’s review/counterargument and re-reading it was refreshing. Gladwell attempts to go head-to-head with a handful of Anderson’s statements, but he really just explains how “Free” is more of a marketing model than it is a business model. Mark Cuban’s blog (which desperately needs a copy editor) drives this point home in plain English.

I tend to agree with the counterargument. As Gladwell points out, trying to monetize truly free content is bad business, and YouTube is his star example. There are still fixed costs for operations of any business, even digital ones, where people spend labor building and maintaining infrastructure for the distribution platform of the free content.

So where does the money come from to support the operational costs? This is where I think Mark Cuban provides insight. His idea that controlling the distribution of free content is spot on. This is how content providers have functioned profitably for decades. Print is a distribution method. Cable TV is a distribution method. Before the Internet went mainstream, media companies were able to control how audiences consumed content through those channels, and advertisers bought-in for a slice of audience attention.

Online advertising has so far failed because media companies have failed to effectively control the distribution of their content. Why advertise with the media companies when their content is aggregated to a hundred other places through RSS and other digital syndication? Newspapers, for example, shot themselves in the foot embracing RSS. It broke their media networks by allowing readers to create their own networks. We don’t even have to discuss pirated content to emphasize how greatly content is devalued.

So long as content creators control their distribution models, they can still price their content as free but make money by attracting advertisers.

Example: Let’s say you could watch Saturday Night Live for free on, or you can subscribe to a fictional NBC service, which allows you to view the video anywhere else it is embedded on the Internet. Those would be the only two ways to consume the content (legally). Let’s look at this model from the perspective of a blogger or someone wanting to host video. You would only want to embed the video if you believe enough of your audience subscribes to NBC, and you would create demand for those who don’t. This would drive up the value of the subscription. Or maybe you’d save everyone the trouble and just point a link back to That would drive up the value of NBC’s hosting site. Either way, that’d be a win-win for the content provider and incentive for advertisers.

Until content providers get ahold of the distribution of their content, “Free” will continue to cannibalize existing media business models.

Class project topic idea: The holidays

4 10 2009

I propose that our Web storytelling class project topic should be “The holidays.” We have the unique advantage during fall quarter to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (preparations), Chanukah and a number of other American and religious holidays. Additionally, international students may celebrate their own or variations of the aforementioned holidays.

I believe this topic is broad enough that everyone can focus on something different and explore their own interests. Some ideas could be:

  • Costume shopping
  • Trick or Treating
  • Pumpkin patches
  • Thanksgiving dinner
  • Black Friday (holiday shopping)
  • Christmas bazaars
  • Student holidays away from home
  • Christmas tree hunting/decorating
  • Traditional holiday foods
  • Holiday food banks/non-profit events

Students should have little trouble accessing venues and events related to the holidays, as many of the above are public events. Students can also think about documenting their own family traditions or take a journalistic approach and join a family, group, or religious affiliation that interests them and report their experiences.

The holidays will be of high interest to broad audiences by the time the videos are finalized in early December. We could possibly attach these videos to holiday stories that university communications will be writing for the university Web site, which could gain the MCDM program exposure as well.