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Hulu's Google TV Gaffe: Today's Outrage

Hulu's absence from the Google TV lineup during Sony's product launch showed why it lags behind Netflix.
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (TheStreet) -- When Sony (SNE) - Get Sony Corp. Report announced its lineup of Google (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report TV products this week, one large online video provider was absent from the discussion: Hulu, which has been absent from most platforms for some time now.

Though a long-rumored feature of Google TV, Hulu stood on the sidelines as NBC, Pandora, the NBA and primary rivals

Amazon

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Video on Demand and

Netflix

(NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report

sidled up to the next big thing in Internet TV. When asked why the Hulu Plus subscription service was absent when Hulu partner NBC made the lineup, Hulu's spokespeople say "The Hulu and Google teams are currently in discussions to bring the Hulu Plus subscription service to Google TV enhanced environments." Given Hulu's track record, it should talk faster.

If Hulu is hoping that it's $9.99-a-month subscription service will help it fight off other video providers, the

GE

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/NBC,

Disney

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/ABC and

News Corp.

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/Fox joint venture should know it's already way behind on the cards. Hulu Plus is accessible on Samsung TV and Blu-ray players and will be available on certain Sony and Vizio products this fall. Netflix is also there. Hulu Plus just returned Hulu to Sony's PlayStation 3 after blacking out its service there last year and plans to jump on

Microsoft's

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Xbox 360 next year. Netflix is already on both systems and the Nintendo Wii. Hulu says Hulu Plus service for Roku and TiVo devices is "coming soon." Netflix will eagerly await its arrival.

Hulu's platform deficit is what makes the service's absence from Google TV particularly egregious. By making it easier to watch Web-based video on television and to view television and browse the Web on the same large screen, Google TV takes an enormous step toward full media integration -- which one assumes Hulu would embrace as a Web video provider. But Hulu never acts like a Web video provider but, instead, like an old, withered network exec clinging to his product with a bony, wrinkled, arthritically frozen hand.

While even the sometimes-stodgy folks at Nielsen have managed to come up with a ratings system for Web video that's comparable to the one in place for TV -- and has

Verizon

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,

Procter & Gamble

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and Facebook aboard for testing this quarter -- Hulu clings to its ad-driven model even as it places a monthly subscription fee atop it. That approach assumes Hulu's content is so rare and inherently valuable that platform producers should kowtow to its demands.

The problem is that its isn't ... at all.

Apple

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TV has a fledgling following and little content to offer beyond pay-per-view iTunes video and Netflix, but it exists just fine without Hulu Plus -- largely because Hulu's day-after-air offerings can be found on iTunes and much of its catalog content (including full, commercial-free streaming seasons of popular Hulu shows such as NBC's

The Office

and

30 Rock

and Fox's

Bones

and

Family Guy

) are already on Netflix. Even exclusive content isn't always completely available to subscribers, as Hulu Plus previewers trying to see the first season of Fox's

Glee

discovered.

Hulu has a wealth of content and, to users who've taken advantage of the service to catch up on their favorite series, it's an asset. It is, however, one asset among many that such platforms as Google's TV and Android products, Apple's TV and iproducts and entire lines by Samsung, Panasonic and Philips can accommodate. While Hulu Plus operates under the old network premise that we'll provide it and you'll like it, device manufacturers are flipping the content equation on its head when it comes to Web video and spelling out the terms. Netflix turned that position of weakness into one of strength by agreeing to deals with studios that limited access to new DVD releases, but bolstered streaming content. It started TV streaming on a small scale with Roku boxes, but expanded its platforms along with its content. The company now has a nearly $8 billion market cap and has seen its stock quadruple in the past 52 weeks.

Hulu Plus is still in its earliest stages and can still have similar success. Its handlers just need to swallow their pride and realize one thing: It's not about them.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.