News Corp., NBC Branding Wonks Name YouTube-Killer ‘Hulu’

The video download site that media heavyweights News Corp. and NBC hope will become a YouTube alternative for commercial downloads finally has a name: Hulu.

The long-anticipated site also has a delayed launch time frame, with an October “private beta” launch. The two companies had previously said they hoped to have the site operating by this summer.

As for the name, CEO Jason Kilar said in a posting to the site that it was chosen for a couple of reasons.

‘Easy to Spell’

“Objectively, Hulu is short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and rhymes with itself,” wrote Kilar, a former Amazon executive who was hired in June to head up the new venture. “Subjectively, Hulu strikes us as an inherently fun name, one that captures the spirit of the service we’re building,” he noted.

“Our hope is that Hulu will embody our — admittedly ambitious — never-ending mission, which is to help you find and enjoy the world’s premier content when, where and how you want it,” Kilar added.

Visitors to the Hulu site are shown a sample of the shows and other content that will be available there. The site is accepting sign-ups to the beta version of the site.

“In the interest of delivering a great customer experience and making sure that we can address any feedback that comes along the way, we’re going to start small and grow iteratively in terms of the volumes of people that we invite to participate in the beta,” Kilar wrote. Around the same time, Hulu will also start distributing content through its partners — AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo.

Category Killer?

The Hulu name quickly drew its share of barbs from online pundits, with the TechCrunch news blog reporting that the word translates into multiple languages, including “cease” or “desist” in Swahili. Others wondered aloud how it could have taken five months and an outside consultant to come up with such as moniker. Still, some argued that any name was better than none; since it had no name of its own, the site had reportedly gained the nickname of “Clown Co.” among Google insiders.

Though it has been billed as a “YouTube killer,” the media companies have emphasized the professionally produced content it would offer, rather than home-made video, video mashups or clips from longer pieces.

The timing of the naming may be significant: It came just days after Google said it would begin placing video advertising on YouTube, providing the site with a business model that could convince more content owners to use site as a Web distribution channel.

Prime-Time Shows

Meanwhile, News Corp. and General Electric, the parent of NBC, have yet to convince other major networks to join them on Hulu as they had hoped. Still, the site is well-capitalized, with a reported US$100 million investment from a private equity firm and backing from both companies. The site will offer some popular content, from NBC prime-time TV shows such as “30 Rock” and “The Office” to programs from the various Fox networks, including “The Simpsons” and “24.”

“The big media companies recognized they risked letting Google set the rules of the game for distributing online video,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told the E-Commerce Times. “They saw what was happening with YouTube, and wanted to make sure that they don’t get to a point where Google is calling the shots in terms of finding and watching online video.”

The fact that millions of videos are viewed on YouTube only adds to that sense that Google has figured out a winning approach to Web video, McQuivey added, with the viral nature of the videos on the site helping it attract massive traffic. The recent launch of video ads only enhances Google’s image as a video distributor, he said. With a longer-than-expected development period, Hulu may use occasional news releases and updates such as the naming to keep it in the headlines while it works to go live.

How Now Hulu?

It’s still not clear exactly how the media companies plan to use Hulu, such as whether it will become a site where users are invited to mash-up free video clips or to stream or download full-length shows. When it was announced, the companies suggested the venture would be primarily ad-supported.

“A lot of media companies want to get a foothold online, but still aren’t in a rush to slap all of their content onto the Internet for free consumption,” Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman told the E-Commerce Times. “There are a lot of approaches being considered and a lot of concern about the impact on their main business of showing video content on television.”

There is no denying the trends in place, however, with more users watching video online every day, whether it’s a viral video or a show downloaded from iTunes, Goodman noted. “There’s no turning back,” he added.

In fact, within four years, some 87 percent of the U.S. population will be consuming online video, predicts eMarketer, boosting the number of Web-based viewers from 114 million last year to 183 million by 2011.

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