Hulu Gets Squeezed

Hulu Gets Squeezed: It was bound to happen. When Hulu began as “NewCo,” it was memorably derided as “ClownCo” by an unnamed Google insider. The inference was to its powerful backers, hardly known for their progressive digital instincts. Yet somehow, someway, Hulu management was able to navigate the rocky shoals to the point where it’s hands down the most successful online video play out there, leaving aside YouTube. Still, there has always been the feeling that when push comes to shove, Hulu’s powerful backers might just push it in the wrong direction. We’re seeing Fox play a card in this game. It announced yesterday it would make its new episodes of shows like Glee available the day after they air on Fox.com and Hulu only if they prove they’re paying subscribers. This is the authentication card, a sign that the big guys are truly worried that services like Hulu are encouraging cord cutting. It comes at a bad time for Hulu, since it’s out trying to drum up interest in a sale that would free itself from its difficult owners. The problem is, without those owners’ content, there isn’t much to Hulu other than a fancy design.

Why Brands Suck at Mobile: There’s a flowering of innovation in mobile, thanks to powerful platforms built by Apple and Google. But that innovation isn’t coming from brands with enormous resources; instead it’s coming from small, bootstrapped startups. That’s the lament of AKQA chief creaitve officer Rei Inamoto. The problem is brands think about things like telling stories, not building software. After all, Instagram was started by four guys and less than $1 million. Couldn’t Kodak have done that? It’s a tempting argument, but most brands will fail at this innovation game. It’s not in their core competencies. They’re also too big to take these kinds of risks. Take Groupon. You’d think newspaper companies, sitting on a large sales force, local distribution and an editorial staff, could have done Groupon. But they didn’t.

Twitter Ads Considered: 140proof, an ad network that puts brand placements in real-time streams, came out with a Twitter advertising report. The lowdown is advertisers have to act more nimble and match up their brand messages with what people are talking about at the moment. That’s a challenge considering how slow the ad process works.

Paywall Success: It’s far too early to tell for sure, but early signs are positive that the New York Times’ much-derided paywall is actually working. Felix Salmon breaks down the numbers, concluding that the NYT is well on its way to reaching 300,000 paying subscribers in a year. In fact, it already has 244,000. That doesn’t guarantee long-term success, of course. There’s no telling how much the declining page views to NYTimes.com has hurt potential ad sales. And there are still plenty of ways around the subscription wall. But Salmon, who was himself a doubter, is becoming a wary believer.

News Site Design Woes: The biggest challenge for most publishers isn’t getting people to visit their sites. That’s a big one, but the bigger one is getting those people to stick around. Sites are constantly trying to up the number of pages consumed during visits. That’s because the online ad world works when you churn impressions. The perverse effect of this has been an arms race of links and callouts that have left news sites horribly cluttered and frankly ugly. Designer Andy Rutledge breaks down the ugliness of news sites by using NYTimes.com as a prime example. The net effect of the barrage of links and content come-ons is the reader feels the site devalues its news. That’s a shame.

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