Hulu Will Never Be the Next Big Thing

80s tv set graphic
80s tv set graphic

by Jon Friedman

Once upon a time, Hulu had a golden opportunity to transform our viewing habits, the television industry and the Internet. Now, you're more likely to associate Hulu with one of those sad "Where Are They Now?" sagas.

Hulu is an Internet site and a subscription vehicle that makes available advertising-bolstered, on-demand streaming video of TV shows, films and new-media trailers, film clips and additional footage. On the one hand, it is popular with users because they get to see so many of their favorite movies and TV programs. But that isn't enough.

In the ever-intertwined media and tech worlds, either you are changing the landscape or you're resigned to be nothing more than a face in the crowd. Companies have to show Main Street and Wall Street that they have a command of the current technology and are leading the pack. When this fails to happen, the public shrugs and inevitably goes on to The Next Big Thing.

Hulu's future does not look promising. Consider that the Wall Street Journal reported last week that News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWSA) and Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), two of the companies calling the shots at Hulu, are talking now about ending the uncertainty over the behemoths' joint control - and the possibility that one party will buy out the other or sell its interest to another party. That bulletin in itself is worth pondering.

Think about it. Why would one of these savvy, ambitious companies want to bail altogether if Hulu's prospects looked bright? And where would a sale of some sort leave Comcast, another owner in Hulu? The big picture is that it's possible that one of the companies is willing to concede that the promise went unfulfilled and it wants to move on.

Ultimately, Hulu probably never had a chance of doing something special, anyway. Its structure was unwieldy, as it is owned by the television industry, meaning it is at the mercy of its backers. How can the company do what it needs to achieve greatness - specifically, make daring decisions and take chances - when its bosses are pulling tightly on the reins? It can't, of course.

If yet another television-centric entity eventually takes control of Hulu, the company will have the same problem as it has had all along: a lack of independence. Yes, Hulu could install a strong chief executive officer who takes no guff from the owners - fat chance. Why would some proud, accomplished media executive want to step into this conundrum? Just as the commissioner of baseball basically does the bidding of the team owners, the head of Hulu will do what his or her constituents want.

It's a shame. Back then, Hulu seemed poised to shake up a media industry that desperately needs a jolt every once in a while. The idea was more revolutionary than evolutionary. It was new. It was different. It had so much potential.

And that's all gone now. Now, we're talking about what might have been.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Media Tagged: DIS, featured, NWSA