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Media Interviews
In their own words


Jason Kilar: Hulu Is Not a YouTube Killer
The CEO of the new online video venture from NBC Universal and News Corp. says that Hulu won't kill off YouTube -- or traditional television. "The vast majority of this industry is going to be on broadcast and cable."


By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 03/24/08


Big media is betting big on Hulu, the new, all-free, all-legal video Web site that streams television shows, movies and other clips, jointly owned by powerhouses News Corp. and NBC Universal. Unlike Google's largely user-generated YouTube -- the world's leading video site -- the advertising-supported Hulu presents professional content only. That means no clips of cats playing the piano (unless, perhaps, they're part of a short from "Saturday Night Live").

Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, a former tech exec with Amazon.com and Disney, oversaw the unveiling of the site on March 12 after some 18 weeks of testing. At launch Hulu served up episodes of more than 250 TV series, from current hits like "Family Guy" to classics like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," as well as 100 full-length motion pictures, like "The Usual Suspects" and "Some Like It Hot."

Consumers are ready to watch TV shows and movies on their computers, Kilar says. "It's media on their terms." But that doesn't mean they'll be fleeing their living-room TV sets, he is quick to add. Broadcast and cable networks aren't "going away anytime soon." It's a message he is likely to repeat when he delivers the keynote address at the National Association of Broadcasters' NAB Show in Las Vegas on April 16.



I Want Media: What's the most popular content on Hulu so far?

Jason Kilar: Comedy is doing very well. Specifically "The Simpsons," when it comes to long-form episodes. "The Office," "30 Rock," shows like that. For the short form content, clips from "Saturday Night Live" are popular right now.

IWM: Are consumers truly willing to watch full-length TV shows and movies on their computers?

Kilar: They're absolutely willing to do that. The resolution is of a high enough quality that they actually find it to be a pleasing experience. It's media on their terms. They can watch a full episode or a full feature film whenever they want, when it's convenient for them. There's a lot of appeal in that.

IWM: Is watching, for example, NBC's "The Office" on Hulu a different experience from watching it on a traditional TV set?

Kilar: It is in that you can do a number of things that are unique to the Hulu environment. If you're watching "The Office" on Hulu, and you see a funny moment with Steve Carell or John Krasinski, you can take that clip and email it to a friend or family member. Or you can embed it in your blog or social networking page. It's as much about the conversation as it is about the consumption.

IWM: After a few minutes of watching the movie "Dude, Where's My Car?" on Hulu, I was hit with a 30-second commercial. Viewers don't find such interruptions intrusive?

Kilar: We have commercial breaks in the same manner that you would see on broadcast or cable. If "Dude, Where's my Car?" were on broadcast or cable, it would have commercial interruptions. But our approach is that less is more. Currently, when you consume content on Hulu, you'll find 25 percent of the amount of advertising that you would find on cable or broadcast.

IWM: During the 18 weeks of testing you received more than 10,000 pieces of user feedback, according to a post on the Hulu blog. What did you learn from this feedback?

Kilar: Quite a bit, actually. We dramatically enhanced our show pages, which is where you go to find out all about a show like "30 Rock" or "Prison Break." And we made it much easier to be able to navigate into every piece of content, whether it's over 500 clips from "Saturday Night Live" or all the episodes from "Friday Night Lights."

We expanded the navigation to have dedicated focus on feature films, in addition to television. That was something that we broke out as a result of user feedback. We also, over the course of the beta period, really dove deeper into HD content. We're servicing quite a bit of HD content through our gallery, just to give people a sneak peek as to what's to come in terms of technology.

IWM: Hulu will allow users to choose watching a movie trailer at the start of a video in exchange for viewing without commercial breaks. How does that work?

Kilar: We just started that functionality when we launched on March 12. We're testing it in a minority of cases, 'cause we want to make sure that we get it right. The user response so far has been very positive. But, again, we're in the middle of testing that.

IWM: Are most users choosing the pre-roll ad or the commercial spots during the video?

Kilar: More people are choosing the pre-roll. But I think it's way too early to draw any conclusion from it. What it says to us is that if you invest in an atypically strong user experience and continue to innovate along those lines, then users will respond positively. As will advertisers.

Theatrical marketers love the idea of putting an entire trailer in front of a piece of content. If you're the marketer in charge of marketing "Juno" in theaters, it's very compelling to be able to offer the theatrical trailer of "Juno" in front of "Arrested Development." Because not only is it similar humor, it also happens to have the two stars that are in both, Jason Bateman and Michael Cera.

IWM: What is Hulu's mission?

Kilar: To help people to find and enjoy the world's premium content when, where, and how they want it. We're not going to stop until we have aggregated the world's best content and presented it on users' terms.

IWM: How does Hulu plan to make money?

Kilar: The business model is free, ad-supported, in much the same manner that you find in the $80 billion U.S. media market. That's the business model we're using.

IWM: Which age group is the largest user group so far?

Kilar: In terms of the private beta test, the 18 to 49 segment is very well represented. It's a big group, for sure. But we haven't released any more specifics beyond that.

IWM: A number of leading content providers, most notably ABC and CBS, are yet to sign up to participate in Hulu. What's their beef?

Kilar: I can't speak for ABC or CBS. What I can say is we continue to be in conversations with them. It's important for Hulu to be very transparent with those companies about the traction that we've gotten thus far and what we're able to do to generate audience.

IWM: "American Idol," the No. 1 show on U.S. television, airs on one of your co-owners, Fox. But it isn't on Hulu. How come?

Kilar: We work very closely with AmericanIdol.com, which is powered by Fox. If you do a search on "American Idol" on Hulu, we'll send people directly to it. Basically, what we've done is we've indexed all of AmericanIdol.com, and we made it so that if you do a search on it, that we surface that content as quickly as possible and take you to it at AmericanIdol.com.

IWM: Being on the Internet, Hulu doesn't have to worry about FCC regulations on so-called indecent programming. But as a repository for a lot of primetime television, is being family friendly a concern?

Kilar: We want to be proud of what we're presenting. And so what we do is identify it correctly. We have feature films that run the gamut from G-rated films to R-rated films. What we're doing for that latter class of content is making sure that people register with their birth date to be able to verify that they're over 18 to be able to watch something like "The Big Lebowski."

IWM: If Hulu hosted the CBS broadcast of the 2004 Super Bowl, would it include Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show?

Kilar: [laughter] That's a great theoretical question. I don't even want to go there.

IWM: Hulu could conceivably let people watch the clip of Janet Jackson over and over again, as well as "fleeting expletives" on broadcast television ...

Kilar: We certainly have the means to be able to present content in its original format.

IWM: Hulu was once described as a "YouTube killer." Is that still the case?

Kilar: Internally it was never the case. I know that the press in many ways has used that moniker. It's unfortunate. Once you use Hulu it becomes very clear that this is very much not a user-generated content service. Our focus is exclusively on premium content.

We have a tremendous amount of user participation and conversation. But we do not have people uploading videos. While the user-generated content video space is very well served, the premium content side of the business has not been. And that's exactly what we aspire to do.

IWM: Do you regard YouTube as a rival?

Kilar: I do not. User-generated content services are focused on just that -- user generated content. We're focused on something different -- the premium content space. I absolutely do not consider ourselves to be rivals of sites with user-generated content.

IWM: You said in a recent interview: "People don't associate "The Biggest Loser" with NBC. People identify with shows, not a network." Could sites like Hulu potentially help bring about the demise of traditional television networks?

Kilar: I believe that Hulu has the opportunity to have a very strong future. But in no way does it suggest that the incredibly large network business and cable business are going to be going away anytime soon. It's just not going to happen. Consumers love to go and turn on the cable dial and network channels and be entertained. That's going to continue.

Hulu is for those users who are spending more and more of their discretionary time online. We want to be relevant in that environment.

IWM: Do you feel as if the weight of old media's future is on your shoulders?

Kilar: I don't. Take a look at the size of the market and the size of the industry. The vast majority of this industry is going to be in the living room. And that's not going to change. It's going to be on broadcast and cable.

While I'm very optimistic and I do believe that we have the opportunity to do something very special with Hulu, to suggest that this industry is going to change overnight is getting a little exuberant.





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