The One Big Thing Hulu is Missing

By Shilpa Nicodemus Hulu is one of the most watched websites for video content online, reaching over 39,000 unique visitors during the month of February, and garnering over $100 million in advertising revenue last year. It hosts over 900,000 videos and is constantly adding more content. The average Hulu viewer watched 23.3 videos during the month, beating out Yahoo!, CBS, Microsoft, Fox, and Facebook. Which means each viewer watched about 2.4 hours worth of video on Hulu.

Almost two and a half hours! That's remarkable stickiness for a site where visitors just passively consume content. And why not? Hulu is a content king and a joint venture of three big networks (Fox, ABC, and NBC). It's sitting pretty on over 900,000 videos. But it's not going to be enough.

Viewers go where the content is. Fans stay where other fans are.

What's missing from Hulu is the ability to interact. It's static. Viewers go there to consume content and leave. Along the way they see a handful of advertisements. Hulu is relying on a very traditional model of merely advertising to the consumer. Yet it's still interruption marketing, however well-tailored it is and no matter how much better its ad recall is. What Hulu needs is something more interactive for its fans, and it could be offering something brand new that no one else in the competition is doing.

Imagine you're watching an episode of Glee. You're a little behind and catching up on an older episode, e.g. episode 21, which is entitled “Funk”. But it's not like you're alone. At any given time, there are probably hundreds of people watching the “Funk” episode of Glee at the same time. And you could be conversing with them. In fact, suppose you had a mini-Tweet box located next to the Hulu video viewer, and you could compose tweets about the episode while you watched. And imagine that Hulu placed a live Twitter feed directly next to the video viewer, so that you can see all the comments other fans are currently tweeting. Hulu would just automatically tweak the Compose-Tweet box so that it automatically adds a hashtag code like #GleeS1E21. If Hulu auto-hashtagged your outgoing tweets and other fans' tweets, then Hulu could also filter the incoming Twitter feed to limit it to only those real-time tweets with that specific hashtag. In other words, you'd only see other fans' tweets about the Glee “Funk” episode as they tweeted them while live-streaming the show.

Imagine the possibilities. Does it matter if you missed Glee last night? In this model, you can still discuss while you watch with other fans. You get to cheer and snipe and LOL throughout the episode along with other fans of the show. It might look a little like this:

What about spoilers? What if you're only five minutes into the episode and some other viewers are 35 minutes in? The obvious solution is that you could pause or turn off the live feed. A better solution is for Hulu to simply add another autohashtag indicating how many minutes into an episode you are, e.g. #5:00, and then Hulu could automatically filter out anyone whose hashtag indicates they're past the #5:00 minute mark or above, e.g. #35:00. It's no guarantee against spoilers, but it's a start.

I acknowledge this idea might unnecessarily involve Twitter. After all, Hulu could simply just create a live chatbox widget on an episode page, which would corral current viewers into live chatting while watching the episode. Except that the Twitter idea has one more feature that could be exploited: tweet-mining. What if in addition to the “live” tweets that appear in the Twitter feed, an alternate feed could also pull previous tweets that have the correct hash-tags? In other words, not only could you see live comments from other viewers in real-time, but you could also see a secondary feed of anything anyone had ever tweeted during Glee's Funk episode at the 5 minute mark. All Hulu would have to do is tweet-mine (like data-mine) for the hashtags #GleeS1E21 and #5:00 and present it to the secondary feed. Moreover, those past, secondary tweets could be optionally re-tweeted by me into my live-feed.

Consider that for a moment. Hulu wouldn't merely be providing interactivity for its users. Suddenly, with the option to re-tweet, Hulu would have access to the most popular moments and sentiments of its users, similar to their Heat Map feature, except I predict this Twitter-based tool would be more sensitive. If the tweet “Ugh, what is Emma wearing? She would never wear that! #GleeS1E21 #14:05” was getting re-tweeted by the masses, wouldn't the producers of Glee be interested to know that? At that's just the tip of the iceberg. Hulu's advertisers and the contents' producers alike should be begging for such second-by-second data collection.

Is this what the viewers want? More interaction? More social media? Of course! The fans are going somewhere to gush and snipe about their shows; why shouldn't it be Hulu, where the content is? The discussion boards on Hulu aren't very active right now. Fans seem go to Facebook pages and network sites to gush. The problem with Facebook pages is they don't have the content, or rather when you click on the full episode videos on a Facebook page, you're directed to the network site to watch videos. But the network sites (and as a result, Hulu) don't have live broadcasts of television shows. They post on a trailing basis, taking anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to post the latest episode. Which is perfectly acceptable. The whole point of this exercise is to build interaction around older content as well as fresh content.

Even if Hulu doesn't do the whole Twitter-feeding idea, the lack of social media on the site is a definite drawback. And the viewers will vote with their clicks and head for a competitor site that does allow for a more chat-like interface. It's only a matter of time before someone develops this idea. Maybe someone has? Let me know in the comments if you've seen something similar to what I'm proposing.

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