Yes, Virginia, Hulu Hates You.

OK, so maybe we can’t ascribe hatred to Hulu, an emotionless corporate entity and online pawn of the studio system. Let’s just say Hulu exhibits something akin to disrespect or disdain and clearly calls the shots as they reach into our homes and devices to decide what web browsing technologies are permissible. They talk about content licensing challenges, and I bet that is the primary factor driving their behavior. However, as content consumers, most of us don’t care on a conceptual level. All we know is that Hulu blocks select, legit web browsing software and hardware from accessing their website. Which potentially makes this a net neutrality issue.

What’s got me spun up (this time) is that while Flash technology is coming to Android, access to the Hulu website will be prohibited. From Engadget and according to Adobe’s CEO (who looks to be in cahoots with Hulu):

Hulu is a legal issue. It’s a great app, we understand the interest, but there’s content licensing issues that prevent it for global or even mobile devices. It’s not something that is a technical issue at all.

I call BS. Regional restrictions are one thing, but excluding my browser of choice because you don’t like my platform is something else entirely. Where will Hulu draw the line? If they work a deal with Apple, will Windows web browsers be blocked? If they work a deal with Sony, will the PS3 be unblocked? The platform should be irrelevant as long the content is presented as intended and not scraped (like the original Boxee implementation).

I’m sure there’s a reasonable middle ground, but wonder if the studio system will find it before their market erodes (or is replaced) – as seen with the music industry. Until then, if this is how TV Everywhere is going play out, I retract my ‘death of roll-your-own placeshifting’ proclamation. And suggest everyone purchase a Slingbox.

23 thoughts on “Yes, Virginia, Hulu Hates You.”

  1. “I call BS.”

    Why bullshit? It’s true. These really are licensing issues.

    I’ve got no particular interest in using Hulu, (though I play around with it once a month to see what they’re up to). I pay through the teeth for an excellent pay-TV bundle, a TiVo with oodles of storage, and a nice home network/server setup that lets me archive TiVo recordings and convert my TiVo recordings to whatever format I like for repurposing on other devices.

    It works just fine. After the initial setup, anything I want to do is nicely automated. I get all the stuff I want in all the formats I want. And I pay for the privilege.

    Hulu, on the other hand, is giving you shit for free, and you complain because “teh free” ain’t serving your precise purposes?

    C’mon now. Licensing restrictions may be annoying, but I’m in full support of content creators getting paid for their labor, and licensing restrictions are how that happens currently.

    I’d assume that someday Hulu will offer you the privilege of paying $20 per month to watch your Welcome Back Kotter reruns on whatever device you like. Will that make you less upset than the current arrangement?

    Hulu is not your friend. It’s a content distribution experiment for the license holders to get a toehold into the future.

  2. I here you man. It really makes no sense. I already (as alot of other people do) have a pc connected to my TV. So if, I really wanted to see Hulu on my TV all I have to do is browse to it via that PC.

    What is the difference between that computer that is connected to my TV and my PS3 that is connected to my TV.

    What really prohibits a mobile phone to view Hulu via a web browser on the phone. Hulu do not have to change anything on their end to make this work.

    They just want to figure out a way to make money even more money.

  3. Chucky, I don’t call BS on the licensing. I call BS on their ability to restrict us based on our choice of web browser, hardware, or ISP.

    I have no problem paying for premium content and agree that the appropriate folks should be compensated for their work. (Isn’t that what Hulu’s ads are for?) And while I’d rather not pay twice, I often do. But Hulu hasn’t given me that option (yet) either.

    We agree on this point: “Hulu is not your friend. It’s a content distribution experiment for the license holders to get a toehold into the future.”

  4. I call BS on licensing restrictions. Hulu *is* the content owners so they set the restrictions.

    I also fail to see how watching Hulu on my phone is any different than watching it on my laptop or my TV with Hulu Desktop.

    It is an arbitrary restriction.

    Of course even if Hulu did wise up and embrace the reality of mobile devices, it still would not remove the need for a Slingbox since Hulu doesn’t do live sports.

    Hulu also is not free. Every time I watch something on Hulu, I am forced to watch ads.

  5. My point is that how is licensing an issue for them. In most cases, people that have a PS3 have a PC. People that have a mobile phone with a browser have a PC. So it’s just another way for the same person to access the same content.

    How or Why should the producers/makers of the content care how their product is being viewed. Specially when the user who wants to view the product has other means to view the product that are technically able to do so. I mean, in 60% to 80% to 90%, of the cases the point I made above is true.

    So I just don’t understand. They probably don’t want to put their business out there as to how they get paid. But I just don’t understand.

  6. “Chucky, I don’t call BS on the licensing. I call BS on their ability to restrict us based on our choice of web browser.”

    But that’s the whole enchilada.

    Hulu would not exist if they had not initially negotiated agreements that limited the rights to “traditional PC usage” only. If they had needed to assemble the rights for “lean-back usage” and “mobile usage” as well, the whole thing never would have gotten off the ground in the first place.

    There is no real money at stake in video for “traditional PC usage”. That’s why Hulu’s rights holders initially experimented with it.

    However, there is real money at stake for “lean-back usage” and “mobile usage”, so that’s why Hulu’s rights holders are trying to find the right ways to monetize those resources.

  7. I’m not personally privy to licensing documents either, but what I’ve heard agrees with what “Chucky” says… the Hulu website negotiated with several creators for certain distribution rights, but this did not include mobile viewing rights.

    I suspect such a set of agreements will come eventually, as mobile viewing becomes more popular… the goal of a creative communicator is to reach their audience.

    (I realize the shows on Hulu are popular, but I’ve never watched it myself… there’ a world of video beyond the big-budget Hollywood stuff. Your call on that part, though.)


  8. Chucky, the problem with that idea is that technically what they are doing is no different then watching it on the web browser. How is my ps3 web browsers interface a ‘lean-back interface’ any more so then a pc hooked up to a tv is with a remote control? How is using a mobile phone’s web browser any different then opening up my netbook and tethering my phone into a wifi hotspot anywhere and firing up hulu any different? If anything the licensing should be more for using my netbook then my phones browser since the screen and sound will be better on my netbook then my phone

  9. This really isn’t a net neutrality issue, because it doesn’t involve 3rd parties blocking or interfering with the transfer of bits between you and Hulu. (If you were unable to use Hulu because Cox doesn’t pay to allow its subscribers to access Hulu, that would be a violation of the end-to-end principle of network neutrality.) This is between Hulu and its customers. Requiring certain types of software to view content isn’t new — plenty of software is Windows only or Mac only.

    Unfortunately, the agreements that give Hulu access to programming also limit the service to only stream that programming to computers, not to mobile phones or televisions.

  10. “Chucky, I don’t call BS on the licensing. I call BS on their ability to restrict us based on our choice of web browser.”

    Or to rephrase myself:

    The value of programming consumed by “traditional PC usage” approaches zero. On the other hand, the value of programming consumed by “lean-back usage” and “mobile usage” is immense.

    Hulu’s been giving the zero value programming away for free to learn the online ropes and to try to build a brand. It’s seems a win-win experiment for both them and for users.

    But in order for them to be able to do that experiment, they must care about restricting the web browser contexts it displays in.

  11. I just find the whole concept annoying. If you are publishing your stuff on the web, you give up control over what is going to happen to it (generally speaking). You might not like people reading your site with ad-blockers on, but it’s not really up to you in the end.

    The same holds for Hulu. If you can’t allow people to watch the video in ways you don’t prefer, then don’t put it up at all. Or you can DRM it, but that is not likely to be a happy experience for anybody. IMO.

  12. Hollywood issues very specific licenses that are based on regions, times and, yes, how content is consumed.

    There is one license for the TV, one for the PC and one for mobiles.

    Broadcasters who want to broadcast to mobile devices are being asked to pay for another license. Hollywood says the license they own to broadcast the very same content in the very same market at the exact same time doesn’t apply. They must pay again.

    I’m not saying it is right or that it makes sense, just that you are wrong that it has anything to do with the platform or browser. Hulu has been blocked on the Skyfire browser for WinMo for some time now. Their EULA says not to connect your PC to your TV and watch Hulu.

    What part of you can only watch Hulu on a PC don’t you understand? — yes it sucks and is stupid.

  13. I say let’s not get mad at the one provider that is actually distributing high quality content at a good price (i.e., free for now.). I understand the concern but at the end of the day they are offering a service and telling you exactly how you can use it.

    There are workarounds like hooking up an htpc or using vnc to get this to work if you really want to solve tihs problem. While I don’t agree with Chucky’s astroturfing his underlying argument is valid.

    Lastly, Hulu is not your friend. They are more like your drug dealer with corporate interests.

  14. Andrew, I hear you. And I’ve had a couple of private terminology conversations on this as well. For me, the concept of net neutrality extends beyond my ISP. Having said that, I stuck ‘potentially’ up there in the post so as to not get sidetracked by semantics. As the Abode CEO said, this is not a technical thing. Hulu is discriminating based on platform… and perhaps that’s their right. Or not. I understand Chucky’s points, I just happen to have a problem with with the current situation.

    Incidentally, I’m surprised the studios deals with Netflix don’t prohibit mobile streaming. The iPad app release quite frankly shocked me. Then again Netflix probably pays more in licensing fees than Hulu is generating in advertising revenue.

    Ben, Hulu doesn’t get to tell me how or where I connect my PC. (Related, I’ve been playing with an underpowered Asus ION Nettop with HDMI out. Hulu streaming, even with the Flash 10.1 release candidate, was unwatchable in full screen. Whereas the Netflix in Silverlight looked quite nice on the plasma. Hm. Short post to follow, maybe this weekend.)

  15. Spurred by Ben’s comment #13 I actually went and read the EULA of Hulu. I came across this quotation:

    “You may not either directly or through the use of any device, software, internet site, web-based service or other means copy, download, stream capture, reproduce, duplicate, archive, distribute, upload, publish, modify, translate, broadcast, perform, display, sell, transmit or retransmit the Content unless expressly permitted by Hulu in writing. You may not incorporate the Content into, or stream or retransmit the Content via, any hardware or software application or make it available via frames or in-line links. ”

    Are these kinds of EULA’s actually legal? Has that ever been tested in court? I’m actually ignorant on this issue, but on a common sense level it seems pretty hard to defend.

  16. This is the open web, it should not matter HOW I got to your website. Eyeballs are eyeballs!

    What if I create a web browser for Android that “looks” like a PC and runs an open source version of flash??

    This crap makes me sick…

  17. Speaking of open web, here’s what Adobe’s cofounders and chairmen proclaimed earlier this month… which doesn’t line up with the CEO’s support of a Flash blacklist above:

    “We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs. No company — no matter how big or how creative — should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web.”

  18. “Speaking of open web, here’s what Adobe’s cofounders and chairmen proclaimed earlier this month… which doesn’t line up with the CEO’s support of a Flash blacklist above:”

    Situational and shifting self-serving “fundamental principles” from Adobe? What a surprise…

    (Not that Apple or Google or Microsoft is any better on this count, of course.)


    You’ve gotta feel bad for Team Abobe. They’ve spent the last 5 years betting the farm on making Flash achieve PDF-like ubiquity, and now it’s all coming apart at the seams.

    As a user, I’m happy at Flash’s slow coming demise – it’ll be better for users when Flash is gone – but I do feel bad for the Adobe folks.

    And a side note to the sad Abobe folks: if you guys would just spend the man-hours necessary to give Creative Suite a normal OS X installer and a bit of a more standard OS X UI, a lot of the anti-Adobe sentiment in Cupertino would fade away. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t still kill Flash, but they’d be much more likely to try to take you guys into account when they make their moves. Apple employees and users really like a platform standard installer and UI…

  19. “… a Flash blacklist above….”

    Not sure I understand… if the people who produce the Hulu content you wish to view have not yet struck a deal for mobile viewing rights, then how is Adobe at fault…?


  20. “Not sure I understand… if the people who produce the Hulu content you wish to view have not yet struck a deal for mobile viewing rights, then how is Adobe at fault…?”

    Dave is objecting to the hypocrisy in the quote he cites above from Geschke and Warnock.

    They are voicing a philosophy diametrically at odds with Adobe’s dealings with Hulu.

    And I’m actually on Adobe’s side here, as opposed to being on Dave’s side. Geschke and Warnock’s hypocrisy is of the garden variety type, and I don’t blame Adobe in the least for creating solutions for Hulu’s needs.

    However, that damn non-standard Creative Suite Installer on OS X really is an example of Adobe very much at fault…

  21. Fault? I’m not quite blaming Adobe for the senario Hulu has created. However, we have an amusing and (non)timely contradiction by Adobe spokespeople. The ‘open web’ the co-founders/chairmen seem to be promoting probably doesn’t distinguish between a mobile, desktop, or couch-based web experience. Which is at odds with the CEO’s backing of Hulu’s platform restrictions. So, how does the company really feel? ;)

    (By the by, eons ago I used to be a Flash and Macromedia Director developer. And I still dabble in Photoshop as you can see up top in my 90 second tweak of an iStockPhoto purchase.)

Comments are closed.