Video-Streaming Service Hulu Walks Fine Line Between Disruption and the Status Quo

My favorite line in Michal Lev-Ram’s feature in the May issue of Fortune on TV-streaming service Hulu is when she calls them the “oh, yeah, I forgot about them” player that nevertheless has 12 million subscribers, a $6 billion valuation, and the complicated support of its entertainment-conglomerate owners.

Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal (part of Comcast), and Time Warner (which is selling itself to AT&T) keep Hulu alive for a simple reason. They hope that by supporting a service with the usability of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes they can somehow stave off competition from those technology-first, content-second monsters.

It’s a tangled web that Hulu weaves. On the one hand, it wants to be the cool kid of video streaming. On the other hand, it wants for its owners to be able to make money off their legacy networks for as long as possible. It’s a tech- and entertainment-industry version of the military adage that the best defense is a good offense.

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Is that strategy working? There’s no easy answer to that. It’s working well enough that the owners want to keep investing. They’ve also supported Hulu’s effort to start a first-of-its-kind live TV streaming offering. If it succeeds it will offer live programming over the Internet that currently is beamed only via broadcast or cable. Fortune’s Lev-Ram breaks down just how Hulu plans to do this without annoying the cable partners who account for so much revenue for Hulu’s owners.

At the very least, it seems less likely anyone is going to forget about Hulu anytime soon. (And if nostalgia is your thing, you might enjoy this early take on Hulu from nine years ago.)

I loved this David Leonhardt column from last week on the virtues of making time for quiet, non-digital reflection. I’ve written about this subject before, and I’ve also made reference to my version of 96-year-old George Shultz’s technique. I like to rise before my family, make the coffee, and sit quietly at my kitchen table reading the (print) newspaper—all before turning to any digital screens. I find I do my best critical thinking of the day then. I recommend the experience highly.

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