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Fritz Nelson
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Do You Hulu? Video Destination Site Delivers On The Viewing Experience

Joint venture between News Corp. and NBC Universal aims to make watching online videos easy for those who don't want to be tied to the TV.

Hulu is one of the most-talked about video destination sites in recent memory. A joint venture between News Corp. and NBC Universal, it has, as you might imagine, quite a library of content from those entertainment companies. In fact, Hulu is home to more than 50 content providers, including Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures, and there has been a four-fold increase in content since its launch last fall, according to the company's CTO, Eric Feng.

While it may seem to be self-defeating for two powerhouses to simply take all of their best video assets and make them accessible to the masses for free, today it's happening whether the media companies want it or not in the form of piracy and peer-to-peer file sharing. If Hulu can "provide a free, no download, no waiting experience," it may reduce piracy, Feng said.

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To do this, companies like Hulu have to deliver an experience close to what people can get in their homes. Feng takes pride in Hulu's use of persistence and one-time expiring URLs, which result in a shorter video buffer time (the time it takes before the video starts playing in your player). Flash lets Hulu control buffer length to about eight seconds, which is enough to negotiate network instability and also protect the content. The player technology and the site were both built from scratch by Chinese developers, using Flash for the player and Ruby on Rails for the site. The content delivery network is from Akamai, perfume and wardrobe by Calvin Klein. Since quality is the next big battleground, according to Feng, Hulu is also testing high-definition offerings.


(click image for larger view)
Hulu's registration element allows the system to remember where a user was the last time he or she was watching something so it can restart at that point. It also alerts users to new content, and allows for more targeted advertising.

Like others, Feng believes that the online medium isn't for everyone, but it's good for people who don't want to be bound by time (when the networks want you to watch) and place (living room couch, in front of the TV and set-top box). Feng even believes it's antiquated for people to think in terms of a destination site, like Hulu, which is why the company allows its video to be embedded into places like Facebook pages.

Feng wouldn't talk about traffic numbers or revenue, but did say that Hulu is sold out and that traffic is exceeding expectations.

Photo illustrations by Sek Leung

video artwork by Sek Leung

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