Hulu.com could be tipping point for cybervision
In the 1969 Elvis movie "Change of Habit," Mary Tyler Moore plays a nun who has to make a tough call.
As the iconic crooner sings his last song, she finds her loyalties split between him and a nearby statue of Jesus. The camera cuts back and forth to illustrate her melodramatic dilemma. Jesus or Elvis? Jesus or Elvis?
While not the shiniest pearl in the Elvis filmography, it certainly had the best cliffhanger ending.
The point is, Digital Slobs understand Sister Michelle Gallagher's crisis of conscience because we relive it daily in our living rooms. Slobs have the same dilemma -- only replace Elvis and Jesus with a TV and a computer.
Every night, millions of us pivot our necks back and forth as each device competes for our attention. "American Idol" or "Facebook"? HBO or BitTorrent? Cathode-ray tube or YouTube?
But unlike Sister Gallagher, who ran out the end-credits clock before making a decision, Slobs have to get off the fence sooner or later -- and hulu.com might finally tip the balance.
The free, ad-supported video-on-demand Web site, which opened to the general public last week, offers "premium content" from Fox and NBC networks: "Family Guy" to "30 Rock," "Project Runway" to "Battlestar Gallactica." And not just month-old or week-old stuff, but also shows from yesterday, if not earlier.
Why now? Big media is eager for any new tool to capture the old-media-averse audience that advertisers want, 12- to 35-year-olds -- also the only ones who can sit at a computer for more than two hours without their sciatica acting up.
While it was in beta, I found the site to be easy to use, and a useful emergency backup when my TiVo failed to read my mind.
The site also offers hi-def movie trailers and dozens of full-length movies, from "The Big Lebowsky" to "Sideways."
Most networks now post content on their own Web sites as well, but each has an intricate landscape to learn. Thus, going to CBS.com to watch "Ghost Whisperer" makes about as much intuitive sense as going to TacoBell.com for a burrito.
Typically, networks also design garish, self-serving home pages; you're sold on the whole "idea" of ABC rather than just being pointed straight to "Lost." But hulu.com is built for the no-nonsense video consumer.
One click takes you to either the most popular episodes or the most-watched clips. If you know what you're after, just type it in the search box in the top right and hit return.
Still, for absolute videophiles, hulu.com is not quite there yet. In full-screen mode it gets a bit grainy, and can stall if your broadband connection isn't in prime shape. Also, everything is ad-supported, even the movies, so expect a traditional TBS-style viewing experience, with commercials dotted throughout.
At this point, however, the ad breaks last only 15 or 30 seconds. Compare that with network breaks, which give you enough downtime to get a master's degree (which may or may not make you feel guilty about not getting a master's degree).
Hulu.com might not yet be divine, but its devotees are growing. Sister Gallagher would be tempted.