Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu’s Super Bowl Pump Fake: Not Coming to an iPod Near You

Is Hulu coming to your iPhone? Or your iPod?

Maybe one day. But not anytime soon.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, though, if you saw Hulu’s first-ever TV commercial, which aired during last night’s Super Bowl.

The spot features Alec Baldwin doing a Jack Donaghy-meets-”Men In Black” bit, and it’s quite good. But several literal-minded blognerds, like me, got caught up on one line–the one where Baldwin says Hulu lets you watch movies and TV shows on “portable computing devices.”

Because in blognerd world, that could mean Hulu intends to move the service beyond its current incarnation–which lets you stream clips for free to your PC–to something you could take with you–like Apple’s (AAPL) iPods or iPhones. Wouldn’t that be great?

You betcha. But it’s not happening in the near future.

Hulu, a joint venture between News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox and GE’s (GE) NBC, declined to comment on the ad. And I probably could have figured out that this was, you know, not that serious, since the tagline of the ad is “Hulu: an evil plot to destroy the world. Enjoy.”

But I was feeling pretty literal today. So I asked someone who ought to know and was told that the JV is concentrating on the core streaming service for some time to come.

What if Hulu did want to make its video truly portable? It would take some doing.

If the company wanted to get its stuff on the iPhone, it would either need to start transmitting its files using something other than Flash format, because Apple’s phones won’t play Flash files. Or it would require Flash maker Adobe (ADBE) and Apple to get Flash to work on the handsets, something that is often talked about but has yet to materialize.

Hulu on your iPod, served up as a downloadable file, is no technical challenge, obviously. Apple is already selling movies and TV shows via its iTunes store.

But serving up free, ad-supported downloadable video is another matter: NBC has played with this idea a little bit, via its NBC Direct. But it needs a lot of work before either advertisers or users are going to find it acceptable.

So: Fun to think about, unlikely to materialize. But more plausible than that tentacle that pops out of Baldwin’s suit at the end of the spot.


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