Hulu.com, which launched in private beta today, emulates many features popularized by Google's (GOOG) YouTube. But unlike YouTube, which mostly shows user-generated content, Hulu includes programs from networks, including NBC, Fox, E! Entertainment, FUEL TV, SciFi Network and USA Networks. The site's purpose is to be both a promotional vehicle and a revenue generator; it will make money from ads both on the site and within videos.
Click below to see a clip from Hulu, the online video joint venture between NBC Universal (GE) and News Corp. (NWS). (The clip will expire after about five weeks.)
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In its first day, Hulu was winning rave reviews from technology-focused commentators on GigaOM, TechCrunch, Silicon Alley Insider and other sites. In the case of GigaOm and TechCrunch, the adulation represented a reversal from their earlier tone –- the founders of the sites had derided the joint venture as "Clown Co.," while also criticizing Hulu's name and its launch delays. From the clip above and others like it, it appears that the site's interface works smoothly. Because Hulu's distribution is limited, however, it's not clear whether site administrators are ready for the crush of traffic that will result when the broader public has the opportunity to find and stream their favorite shows online.
Silicon Valley is paying close attention. Beyond the challenge to YouTube, the clean start for Hulu has implications for Apple (AAPL), which is trying to build a business selling Hollywood video content through its iTunes Music Store. NBC and Apple clashed earlier this year because of the network's desire to have more say over the pricing of its shows. Because of the disagreement, NBC shows are no longer available on iTunes.
To a great extent, Hulu was born of Hollywood's desire to control its own digital destiny. And if Hulu proves to be a success with customers and not just the early reviewers, it could give networks new leverage when negotiating distribution deals with technology companies like Google and Apple.