Google TV Puts Hurt on Hulu Plus

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Google ( GOOG) TV and Hulu Plus are launching this fall, but that's about all the platform and content provider have in common as the future of Web video gets clearer.

Hulu Plus -- the subscription service launched by News Corp.'s ( NWS) Fox, GE's ( GE) NBC and Disney's ( DIS) ABC for their Hulu joint venture -- seemed like it was off to a good start. For $9.99, the service (still in its preview stage) has access to the full current season and past seasons of shows such as NBC's 30 Rock and The Office, Fox's Glee and canceled cult favorite Arrested Development and ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Modern Family. It is also available on Samsung TVs and Blu-Ray players, Sony's ( SNE) PlayStation 3 and Apple's ( AAPL) iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone -- with plans for expansion to more Sony products, Microsoft's Xbox 360, the Roku player and TiVo ( TiVo) devices within the next year.

What it doesn't have is availability on Google TV, which is already home to streaming video from Hulu's main competitor, Netflix, for $1 less per month. Nor is it on Apple TV, which Netflix also counts among its lengthy list of platform partners.

"We've seen Netflix supported on a very wide array of platforms," says Ross Rubin, an analyst with NPD Group. "It's about as ubiquitous of a video service as you'll find, even though it involves paying a monthly fee."

Netflix can't offer the 780 million commercials and 30.2 ads per viewer that ComScore ( SCOR) says Hulu averaged in August -- leading all Web video providers and beating the combined 28.3 ads-per-viewer average of all sites combined -- but it doesn't have to. While alluring to advertisers, Hulu's ads stand out like festering boils to consumers comparing its value and versatility with commercial-free Netflix, which exists on platforms Hulu covets. It's part of the reason Netflix is offered on the Xbox, PS3 and Nintendo Wii, Roku and TiVo devices, and products from Hitachi ( HIT), LG, Pioneer, Philips ( PHG), Samsung, Sanyo, Sansui, Toshiba, Yamaha, Vizio and Best Buy's ( BBY) Insignia. Another part is Hulu's reluctance and refusal to allow its free service to be seen by users of those devices and Hulu Plus platforms such as the PS3, where original-recipe Hulu went dark just last year.

"Hulu was very aggressive in blocking access to its free ad-supported service back to the television," Rubin says. "Now that it has a subscription service, it seems to be opening the door wide because Hulu wants to build a subscription business, and part of the value is access to its content on a broad array of devices."

Hulu Plus may yet join the Google TV lineup, as it already shares Apple's mobile platforms and Sony's PS3 and other platforms with Netflix. If it does, Hulu's commercial-laden subscription service will find itself at an immediate disadvantage among offerings from NBC, Time Warner's ( TWX) HBO, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network, Amazon's ( AMZN) Video on Demand and the NBA. Considering that neither Hulu nor Netflix has announced an application for Google's Android, Netflix's cozy Google TV relationship puts Hulu at another distinct disadvantage joining a platform NPD says is leading the mobile market with a 33% share to Apple's 22%.

"Google would really like to see Hulu available on Google TV-powered devices, which would make it a more powerful platform," Rubin says. "Considering that it has commercials, it's in Hulu's longer-term interest to have its service available on as many platforms as it can realistically support, very similar to Netflix."

Hulu shouldn't view a partnership with Google as important just because NPD says Android was the best selling mobile OS in the second quarter, accounting for 33% of all smartphone sales to Research in Motion's 28% and Apple's 22%. Or because Nielsen says one in every three phones sold in the past six months was an Android phone. Or because Gartner ( IT) says Android grew from 1.8% global market share in August 2009 to a more than 17% share today. Or because Android is a sizable and growing part of a mobile market in which Gartner expects mobile applications alone to account for $29 billion in global revenue by 2013. It should court Google because the demand for online video is growing and people with deep pockets and influence are starting to take notice.

According to ComScore, 178 million Americans watched an average of 14.3 hours of online video content in August. That's 85 percent of the U.S. Internet audience and exactly who Nielsen was targeting when it announced the development of Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings, which will allow Nielsen to gather online audience data comparable to its TV ratings and is being tested in the fourth quarter with help from Verizon Wireless, Procter & Gamble, Facebook and other partners.

Web video may have nowhere near the offerings and following of cable and satellite providers, but HBO's embrace of Google TV, ESPN's jump to Microsoft's Xbox Live subscription service and Netflix's presence nearly everywhere should be a sign to Hulu that a subscription service and some television shows just aren't enough when too many potential viewers on too many platforms just aren't seeing your product. The future is a combination of free, on-demand and subscription-based Internet video, and there's plenty of room for everyone. "There's certainly a broad array of entertainment available," Rubin says. "It's hard to conceive of someone who could consume all of the movies and TV shows available through Netflix, Hulu and Amazon today. "

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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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.

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