How to improve Hulu

I love Hulu.

In exchange for letting me watch high-quality, streamed episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” for free, I’m required to sit through one short commercial (between 5 and 30 seconds) during every regular commercial-slot interval.  There’s no way to skip through them.

I’m not annoyed by this at all.  In fact, I’ll gladly watch these commercials just because I think Hulu’s service is great.

What’s awesome for the advertisers on Hulu is that if someone watches multiple episodes of a show, they’re going to see the same commercials over and over and be obligated to watch them.  Frequency is an advertiser’s best friend.  And the commercials are so brief that the viewer doesn’t have time to go make a sandwich or anything, so they’re going to see them.

In spite of Hulu making things better for both the viewer and the advertiser, they are still doing it all wrong. Why?  Because Hulu is playing by the old rules.

Traditionally, ads on TV take the shotgun approach.  Ad companies fire tons of marketing bullets at a big crowd without taking proper aim, and hope their message sticks with a few people.  This is wildly inaccurate, hardly measurable, and a HUGE waste of money.

Hulu is only mildly improving this approach.  The commercials they run are not competing with tons of other messages or being ignored in the clutter.  So what’s the big deal?  Hulu has screwed up because they treat the viewer like they’re watching the show on TV, instead of online. As a result, if you see an interesting ad by “Now what?” and you want to visit their site, you have to click out of the show you’re watching, open a new tab, then manually type in “nowwhat.com.”  That’s too many unnecessary steps, which means the viewer is less likely to do it.

A simple partnership with Involver would fix this problem.  Then user’s could click on the ad and go straight to the advertiser’s website, or do whatever the call-to-action is in the ad.

Another problem with treating Hulu like it’s using TV as its medium is that they’re ignoring the potential for permission marketing.  Why not offer the member a chance to cut their commercials in half if they take a monthly survey?  Find out their specific interests and then deliver more relevant ads to them in the future.

I know Hulu is young and still in the “we’ll take whatever advertising dollars we can get” phase, but they need to start taking advantage of the medium they’re on.

4 comments on “How to improve Hulu

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  2. I definitely agree that Hulu is not using its platform the way they should. When I am watching something on Hulu I don’t feel involved. The really cool thing that TV does for me is that it allows me to be social while watching TV. Now that I move more and more of my TV consumption online I miss that part. I would love to see some improvements on bringing the social factor of watching TV to Hulu.

    Great post, Charlie.

    -Bjoern

  3. Hulu did give me an option in ads a couple times where you choose between normal commercials throughout the episodes or a single long advertising skit (I believe it was Tina Fey and Scorsese for AMEX) that was like 1 min to 1:30 and then watch the whole episode without commercials. Also, if you click on those little banner ads that pop up it opens the ad and stops playback.

    In this day and age, you are kidding yourself if you think people aren’t minimizing that window for those 30 second spots, or at least muting the audio especially for boring commercials that don’t interest them, like some of the drug commercials. The real answer is doing what TV advertisers are doing: make commercials that are interesting in some way, like Nike’s “Fate” or i would argue Windows commercial’s that for some reason are so cool to hate on. Ever since they had that series with Demetri Martin I have liked what they are doing, being funny and a little self-deprecating yet unapologeticly quirky in a way that is very true to what Microsoft was before it was seen as the big, bad uber-corporation. And for Mac to make a comercial ragging on them for spending on ADVERTISING, I’m sorry, that’s ludicrous, Mac may have a great built in hype machine, but advertising was what built their recent success and gave them the cache to get the internet to cream its collective pants with every Press Release.

    Hulu must be mining so much data to see what each viewer is actually interested in, but I have not really noticed any specification yet in commercials, it seems pretty random, though perhaps I am just not seeing the ones not directed at my demo; if it IS being implemented and is working correctly it isn’t supposed to be noticeable.

    Bjoern- CBS does something like that with their viewing rooms, where you can chat with other viewers as you watch, haven’t tried it tho.

  4. Thanks for your comment, BJ.

    I’ve watched Hulu episodes with friends before, and none of them have muted or minimized windows when the ads came on. I know a few of my friends aren’t necessarily representative of the population, but if you’re averting your eyes and ears for 15 seconds just so you can avoid ads, then you must really hate commercials.

    I think you should check out my “Oh Microsoft” post to see how I feel about Microsoft’s advertising. That is something I disagree with you on. Their marketing campaign is painfully dumb.
    http://charliehoehn.com/2008/09/06/oh-microsoft/

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