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Hulu revisited: Worthy of love and suspicion in equal measure

Jared Newman | July 3, 2015
If you haven't been paying attention to Hulu lately, the streaming-video service would like you to take a second look.

One more ad--for cable

In terms of the actual content, Hulu has come a long way since its early days of mainly serving up shows from the big broadcast networks. Scroll through the list of networks, and you'll see a long list of cable-TV channels including FX, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, and National Geographic. It's a powerful feeling to choose a channel you like, pick a show, and see the entire back catalog all the way up to the latest episode. You might even wonder why the big cable networks are cool with this.

You need only dig deeper into the catalog for clues. Some channels, such as the Food Network, make just a sliver of their series available on Hulu, while others, such as IFC, only offer short clips instead of full episodes. The impression this gives is that Hulu is functioning in part as a lure for cable TV. Sure, Hulu seems to say, we've got lots of great content. But look how much more content you could get with a big old channel bundle.

This is no surprise given that Hulu is jointly owned by Comcast (through NBCUniversal), Fox, and Disney. As the Wall Street Journal tells it, Comcast has tried to pitch the service as "the nationwide streaming video platform for the cable TV industry," suggesting that it doesn't really want to be a disruptive force. It's aiming to compete with other streaming services, while at the same time trying to preserve the status quo.

You can also see this notion playing out in Hulu's half-hearted attempts at original programming. The company claims that it's looking for an original that will define the Hulu brand, but according to Bloomberg, it isn't spending as much as Netflix, which has already built up a sizable stable of well-liked originals. While Hulu maintains that it has support and relative autonomy from its industry backers, it's hard to believe they'd let Hulu do too much to shake things up.

None of which is to say you shouldn't give Hulu a shot, assuming you're not a staunch opponent of ads in your video streams. The next-day programming is a huge lure, as it gives Hulu a fresher vibe than rival services, and it has a growing number of TV shows that you can't get anywhere else.

But if you've cut the pay-TV cord, and have no interest in going back, don't assume that Hulu has your best interests at heart.


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