This is an editorial by Smithee and a plea for your help in shaping the future of entertainment.
At our house, we enjoy some Hulu programming on occasion. Even though during the recent DVR years I’ve become accustomed to skipping commercials, I don’t mind them on Hulu, for these reasons:
- I’ve only seen one per commercial break
- They haven’t been suddenly, obnoxiously loud
- Hulu is free, and so advertising makes sense
And so far, there’s no ability to skip them. I can deal with that, because in an episode of, say, “Defying Gravity” on Hulu, there are five commercial breaks, for a total of five minutes of Lipitor commercials (at first, every episode would play five of the same Lipitor commercial, it was almost funny). I can accept five minutes. That means about 9.6% of a 43-minute show is an ad. That’s fine, so long as the service is free.
But that is going to change sometime in 2010. Hulu is owned by NewsCorp (who owns roughly half of everything), and they have decided:
It’s time to start getting paid for broadcast content online. I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value. Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business
Anything more specific than this decision is just speculation: subscriptions for what, everything? premium channels only? groups of channels? Nobody knows.
What I propose is unacceptable is this: a subscription fee for any user, for any content, so long as the advertising remains part of the experience. In other words: unskippable ads are no problem, subscription fees for any content are no problem, but both together would be a problem.
You and I have a chance right now to help influence and inform Hulu’s decision to go forward with a subscription model, before we let ourselves get duped.
Sadly, we’ve been letting ourselves get duped for a long time.
Newspapers, Cable TV, mobile phones
Newspapers are filled with advertisements, and they also expect you to pay for each copy. The same is true of magazines. In fact you could argue that any fashion magazine is just one huge multi-part advertisement. So, I don’t read them. Oh, I look at the news online all the time, but between my banner-blindness and various browser plugins, it’s not often I see an advertisement.
TV is a different story. TV used to be just like radio: the good parts were ad-supported, and you also had a station that relied on member subscriptions. Cable messed that all up, and we were too busy with the colorful new channels to notice. A cable company would set up shop in your town and tell you all about the dozens of extra options you’d get for $X / month. We were totally psyched to get MTV and Nickelodeon at our house, but it didn’t occur to me until later than since the cable company replaced our over-the-air channels, we were now paying for something that used to be free. Thirteen free somethings, in fact (UHF was admittedly pretty empty).
There’s an argument that in the case of OTA / broadcast channels, what you’re paying the cable company for is consistent quality of signal. I’d be happy to see some proof of that, in the form of a cable company’s accounting spreadsheet. I’m sure that NBC is charging the cable
companies a fee to include their programming, and cable is passing that cost on to the customer.
The mobile phone business model just depresses me whenever I think of it. Here’s how a phone worked since the time it was invented: if you called someone, you were expected to pay for it, but if someone called you, it was free. This makes total sense: the phone call recipient didn’t intend to have that conversation, he or she isn’t really responsible. Besides that, this seemed to work very well for decades, and phone companies never changed it. That is, until we were tooling around town with phones in our pockets and cars. Since it was new and fancy, providers decided to invent a different business model: you’d be paying for calls now whether you started it or not.
As far as I know, mobile phone companies have never had to justify this to their customers en masse.
AOL vs. World of Warcraft
Remember those CDs of AOL software? They were everywhere. It seemed like you’d get a new version in your mailbox every three months, especially if you weren’t even a customer. They were free, because AOL’s business model was a monthly fee for access, content, and software upgrades. And AOL did fine for a long time.
Everquest came along and messed that all up, charging both a monthly fee and an upfront fee for the software, and now WoW players suffer the same fate. You’re paying the company twice for the same things they were going to be doing anyway. What is wrong with us? Why do we enable companies to use more than one business model at a time?
Advertising is a replacement for subscriptions
And vice versa: subscriptions are a replacement for advertising. Advertising is one business model, and subscriptions are another. Employing both for the same product is unacceptable.
I’d like to ask for your help now in spreading this message to the managers at Hulu, so they understand the intelligent way to move forward is to either saddle us with a recurring fee and remove the commercials, or leave the commercials in an otherwise free service.
On Hulu’s discussion forum, there are already many threads decrying the decision to start charging. You could try adding your own voice there, or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Another less elegant method would be to add an irrelevant comment on one of the entries at the official Hulu blog. In my experience, site owners are more likely to read blog comments than they are discussion forums, but your mileage may vary.
Hulu’s Free Glory Days Are Official Numbered, John Herrman, Gizmodo, Oct. 22 2009
Updated October 30, 2009 and originally published October 27, 2009.