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Hulu Is Crack, iTunes Is Marijuana

May 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

One of the great things about being a reporter is you don’t have to make stuff up. You just report the stuff other people make up. Like what John Flowers, the San Francisco-based independent filmmaker, said during our recent recording of the weekly audio podcast “This Week in Media.”
“Hulu is like crack and iTunes is marijuana,” he said.
Hulu is crack because it temporarily satisfies your intense, immediate, gotta-have-it-now craving for a TV show. When we use Hulu, we’ll take anything, even the measly four episodes of a TV show that Hulu deigns to roll out at its whim.
We don’t know which episodes of our favorite shows will be on, nor when. But we don’t care. Nor does it matter if the stream buffers or sputters during the 22-minute viewing of a random episode of “The Office.” We’ll suffer through 30-second commercials too, before, during and after our show. We just have to have our fix.
But iTunes. Hey, man, iTunes is cool. You can just release the next season of “Californication” whenever you want. Nine months from now? No biggie. We’ll just sit back and chill on the couch.
Of course, the reality is both drugs are imperfect solutions to the problem. On the one hand, iTunes boasts a superior user interface and you can take your shows with you. You don’t have to be connected to the Internet. In fact, when you’re not online is often when you most want to watch a TV show. But iTunes doesn’t offer everything, since you can’t get NBC shows, for instance, or shows from the NBC Universal cable networks. (Sorry “Battlestar Galactica” fans.)
So here’s the perfect drug.
Streaming services like Hulu need to merge, functionally, with download services like iTunes. NBC already offers NBC Direct, which lets you download its shows for free for seven days and watch them on your computer, even when you’re not connected. That’s a step in the right direction since it frees us from broadband dependency.
My bet is that Hulu will evolve in the next year to offer similar functionality, but with more features. You’ll be able to either watch online or download shows from Hulu for free for a limited period of time and take them with you on a portable device. You won’t have to pay $1.99 an episode like you do on iTunes, but you won’t get to own the shows forever either.
Because this revolution is all about freeing content, both from its television set chains, and now from the chains of the Internet connection.
I don’t advocate crack or marijuana. But I think Hulu on iTunes sounds like a natural high.

101 Comments

  1. Daisy,
    Have you ever found yourself listening to radio in the car, and had the sudden realization that you can’t fast-forward through the commercial or advance to the next song because the current one sucks? This has happened to me several times recently, and made me wonder at some point of someone would create “Tivo for Radio” that would record the last 30 minutes of all your favorite radio stations so you could “back up” and hear the beginning of something that you’d just tuned into.
    However, what it really points to is that live radio takes control out of my hands that I’ve grown accustomed to with having an iPod/MP3 player. I now *expect* to be in control, and it surprises me when I’m not. I’m similarly frustrated when I sit down to watch a non-DVR’d movie or show, and can’t zip past parts that don’t interest me.
    The nature of some events takes this control away from you. You can’t, for example, just fast-forward through a bank robbery or car accident, see how it’s going to turn out, and hit pause. Life, sadly, can’t be DVR’d this way. Video, however, begs for this kind of control, and the popularity of DVRs in general has shown this. It parallels the usage patterns of iPod/MP3 users in that once they go down this path, it becomes a sea-change for them.
    The risk for Hulu, I fear, is that they don’t get this fundamental change of the control model. The “democratization” of media, if you will. They want to control as many aspects of you viewing the content as they can, and people seem to resist this.
    The “control genie” is out of the bottle. I’m not sure that mainstream media is going to be able to stuff it back in, regardless of how they try. – Tim

  2. Yes, and it will come down to a balance between the amount of viewing time they want to force us to watch (such as ads) versus the time it takes us to hack a copy of the media without the restrictions.
    If the constraints are too severe, we’ll go to great inconvenience to crack them. But if it is convienient to use the media where and when we wish, most folks will accept a bit of forced attention.
    The problem with many big-media monoliths is that they want to use the new technology to increase their control to be greater than it has been in the old channels, but when it comes right down to it the real new power is mostly on the consumer side. Any media that they want to let us experience can be cracked somehow. Someone will do so and package it up for everyone to use.

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