They were a fledgling challenger to the throne of online video, in a time when YouTube was all anyone knew. Well, not really, but you know. And in those halcyon days of yesteryear (early 2008), life was bliss. You could watch hundreds of hours of TV from years past. I recall watching the entire run of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia based purely on the raucous laughter of my friend Dave when he told me about it. I caught up on an entire run of a show over the course of a couple of years in a few days over the summer. Brilliant! It’s all I ever wanted from TV: be there, when I want to watch you, and I will. Hell, I’ll even sit through ads. I didn’t care! It was the greatest thing to happen to TV since the remote control, as far as I was concerned. I was in on the early beta, and it just got better and better as the weeks went on.
But then something happened. Videos started mysteriously disappearing, replaced with cryptic blog posts and half-hearted apologies. Software that was poised to thrust Hulu into the spotlight even more, like Boxee, was quietly (at least in the beginning) crippled from showing Hulu content over and over. We all speculated why, since the commercials weren’t stripped out, so the idea that the big, archaic content provider logic was decreeing it such wasn’t holding up to scrutiny. Even though it’s often to blame for the asinine decision to only show the last few episodes of a series, as though this would prevent the cannibalization of DVD sales. (PS: I wasn’t buying the DVD anyway, and still won’t, guys, so that incisive, Custer-esque strategy kind of failed. Physical media is dead to me.)
Then the big announcement. Hulu desktop. We got all flustered and downloaded it, and you know what? It’s not that great. Every machine I run it on, Mac OS or Windows, has some issues. Sure, it gets revved up after a while and seems ok, but the experience is just not as smooth as it needs to be. But it suddenly made sense why they would want to kill the Boxee connection. They had their own ball, and Boxee wasn’t allowed to play with it anymore.
So it begs the question: with Hulu limiting/removing available content at any given time based on an ever-changing labyrinth of copyright agreement, and their desktop client not really outpacing the competition in terms of usability, and people clamoring for more, more, more – even to the point of loudly announcing that they would pay a monthly fee to get a better Hulu (myself included) – what exactly is the plan here?
Hulu, seriously. Pull it together. I want to sing your praises from the rooftops again. Please, for the love of all that’s holy in the nerd-tech-TV world, be a force for change and make things work better for all of us. Don’t squander that early lead.