I deleted my Hulu account today. I canceled Hulu Plus service months ago, so this was a long time coming. When I got rid of my pay TV subscriptions last fall, I saw Hulu as my safety net for the few current shows I still enjoyed watching. I'm sad to see that after a very promising start, Hulu has become just as bad (and in some cases worse) than live TV. Goodbye, Hulu. You shall not be missed, at least not in your current incarnation.
Decline of a Promising Product
When Hulu came into existence the concept was good. Current TV shows, within a week of their live debut, for free? My interest was piqued. So there were still ads, no problem. I could mute them and make a snack break. They even offered the option to vote ads up or down depending on how relevant they were to me.
Sometimes I'd get an option to watch one long ad and have no more interruptions for the entire length of my show. For hour-long dramas this was fantastic. There was even talk of a premium service with no ads at all, that would allow me to stream to my TV rather than my laptop using one of many devices I already owned. All was good.
I watched and enjoyed many seasons of my favorite shows, barely cognizant of the fact that the ad-free offers dwindled to the point where I never received them anymore, or that my shows which used to be broken up with two thirty-second ads were now divided into five or more commercials of up to a minute and a half a piece.
The reality didn't hit me until fairly recently that the service I used to love and thought quite reasonable has turned into a worthless miasma of un-targeted marketing and just plain idiotic product plugs. On what planet does the fact that I'm a 29-year-old male watching House, M.D. make me the target audience for a Marshalls women's clothing sale, or the latest season of American Idol?
Is this Ad relevant to you?
I remember when clicking the little "No" button on the top right corner of Hulu's AdTailor feedback mechanism would actually stop the currently-running ad. Now, it tells me my feedback will be used to better tailor ads in the future, but I see the exact same ad I just voted down three more times before my show is finished.
I abhor advertisements, but I'm willing to put up with ones that are funny, or at least partially relevant to my interests. Over the last three episodes I've watched on Hulu, I counted approximately zero relevant ads, and at least a dozen repeated ads I'd previously marked irrelevant. No, Hulu, just because I like one show on Fox doesn't mean I want to see the same stomach-churning ad for The X Factor or Glee four times over the course of a one-hour show. Remember the fact that I'm male and 29? Yeah. Pay attention to your demographics.
I find your lack of vision disturbing...
The thing that irks me the most about Hulu is that it's a wasted opportunity. I would gladly pay for an ad-free version of Hulu for a reasonable rate. I already pay for this with Netflix. Their service is great, and it doesn't rely on hounding the paying customers for products or programs they don't want.
Even if I paid for Hulu Plus, the only thing I received in return was the ability to watch certain select programs on my TV, with just as many ads as the free account. Don't even get me started on the logic behind allowing certain shows to be watched on the web but NOT on streaming through other devices. What possible benefit does it offer to a user to see a listing for their favorite show on Hulu Plus only to get a "Due to licensing restrictions, this is only available through the web" error screen?
You would think that Hulu would want as many eyes watching shows (and compulsory ads) as possible regardless of the platform. That's how a truly forward-thinking company would work. However, Hulu is not that.
Showing their true colors
Hulu is owned by some of the largest media conglomerates in the world. NewsCorp (owners of Fox), NBCUniversal (owned by Comcast), and Disney are the people paying to keep this service afloat. They aren't interested in making Hulu actually compete with paid TV, and have in fact tried to sell off the company unsuccessfully.
Hulu could easily replace cable and satellite television across the US for folks who have access to broadband internet. With a reasonable fee structure and a compelling lineup of shows from major studios they could even become the "live TV" version of Netflix. However the problem they face now is that the owners do not want Hulu to succeed. To do that would undermine their old cash-cows. They would be forced to restructure their entire business, which needs to happen anyway. Apparently Rupert Murdoch and Bob Iger would rather see their companies fade into obscurity than milk the new business they already have established.
The Bottom Line
What this whole experience has taught me is this: television, like the ads Hulu tried to foist upon me with increasing frequency, is irrelevant to me. I've discovered in the last few months that I spend much less time watching TV and more time doing other things I enjoy. Writing books, spending time with friends, being productive. If more people came to this realization, perhaps companies like the ones behind Hulu would wake up and try more than half-assed ways to get us interested again.
Goodbye, Hulu. It's a shame your creators never really wanted you to succeed.
UPDATE 05/01/2012 - A Sad Footnote
Not a week after I posted this, an article came out saying the owners of Hulu want to make the service into something that will require a cable subscription, which will effectively kill the entire reason most people use Hulu. Corporate America, especially in the entertainment industry, continues to show it's run by a bunch of clowns who need a very harsh reality check.
News flash: this is going to kill Hulu! Or was that your plan all along? To dangle something new, something better than existing cable/satellite services and then yank it out from under us so we'll all come crawling gratefully back to your trough? Screw that. To quote poster ovalseven from Consumerist.com:
"This is kind of like restricting bus tickets to only people who own cars."