March 29, 2008


On demand

A really good friend told me I should check out Hulu. Like me, he gave up cable television and was looking for alternatives. I gave up cable television a couple years ago because I was tired of the expense compared with the lack of options. Really, there were only a few stations I would miss having, Comedy Central and SciFi for instance; and there were several channels that weren't included that I would have loved, such as Sundance and the IFC channel. At that time some subscription-based channels, such as HBO, were already offering On-Demand content, so I suspected that television content would eventually migrate to the internet, it was only a matter of time. It seems that process has begun...finally.

But its been slow: The Internet appeared to be more suited for user-created content, the likes of YouTube and such, and Studio/big-media driven content has remained mostly only available trough the traditional mediums of cable and satellite. And as great as user generated content can be, its mainly suited for a niche audience (although a growing one), and lacks the capabilities a studio with a lot of money behind it can provide. They compliment each other in the sense that they each offer something unique. Note: An interesting splice of a big-media concept with user-generated content is the web-based game show PlayCafe, which combines a host narrating players on the Internet playing live. Its more of a community than a game show.

But it seems that corporate media has seen the potential to profit by putting their content on the web, with the success of Internet video companies like YouTube. (This was one of the most important factors in the television writer's strike that ended only recently -- the money earned through online ads wasn't adequately reflected in the their contracts.) From what I've seen, the best stride to bring traditional big media programs to the Internet is what my friend showed me, the result of a partnership between NBC and Fox called Hulu. But there have been quite a few other endeavors to push television content onto the web along the way. Most of these video services require a fairly high bandwidth Internet connection.

I had been looking for a good alternative for awhile. About a year ago I signed up to beta-test Joost (pronounced “Juiced”) - startup company from the guys who created Skype (the VOIP telephone service) and Kazaa (the peer2peer file transfer program). They sold Skype to Ebay and began to develop a high-quality video service under the code-name The Venice Project. Since they were not affiliated with any major media companies who could foot the bill for the huge bandwidth requirements; their solution was to utilize peer-to-peer technology (similar to the way file-sharing applications like Kazza and BitTorrent work) that allows high-quality content to trickle across a network of users rather than from one constant source. It functioned like an on-demand service with short ads to bring in enough revenue to cover the expense of the content provided. Its a cool idea, and has nice user interface, but the content they've arranged has never lived up to the technology's potential. They did strike a deal with the major media company Viacom (parent company of CBS, MTV, Comedy Central and others, and who has been vehement in having its content pulled from unlicensed sources such as YouTube) and other some other corporate media sources, so some interesting content is available but dated. And most of Viacoms content is available on the net for free through its network websites (I wish this was the case for Comedy Central -- the Colbert Report had only just started airing when I terminated my cable service).

Having recently gotten addicted to the show LOST, which only happened as a curiosity after getting caught up in the hyper-viral campaign for JJ. Abrams' movie Cloverfield. I had to find a way to catch up on the episodes I'd missed to understand the story. ABC has many of its shows online, some in HD quality. You can watch all four seasons of LOST. You just have to install a simple plug-in to your web-browser for their video service to work.

The best I've seen so far is Hulu. Many shows are available in their entirety on Hulu from NBC, Fox, and many of their affiliated networks like Bravo, SciFi, FX, and quite a few others. You can watch all three seasons of Arrested Development, the most recent seasons of The Office, 30 Rock, and Heros, to name a few. There is a lot of great Science Fiction available such as Firefly, episodes from the new BattleStar Galactica as well as the original Battle Star Galactica, and a spin-off of the original called Galactica 1980. Hulu has shows I'd almost forgotten about like Sliders, and ExoSquad – a show I enjoyed when I was a kid. (ExoSquad had a plot similar to BattleStar Galactica--Humankind fighting for survival against a race it created, which is also like The Matrix, which has a character called Neo who “jacks in” to the virtual world, which I remembered, is so similar to the way the humans jack-in to their exo-suites in ExoSquad.)

Hulu is by far the sleekest, best organized version of big-media content on the Internet. For a complete list of television shows available by network click here.

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