The more we learn about Hulu (NWS/GE), the more it reminds us of @Home, the company created by the cable industry in the late 90s to help industry participants compete against AOL and solve their Internet infrastructure problems. @Home sold itself to Wall Street as “the largest broadband ISP,” when in fact all it did was provide network services to cable companies. Similarly, Hulu is selling itself as “the largest collection of premium video” when in fact it is mostly just a captive distribution mechanism for TV networks.
@Home was mostly owned by the same cable companies it was dependent on for subscribers and revenue. For obvious reasons, @Home’s cable partners and owners always looked out for their own interests first–just as Hulu’s owners are looking out for theirs. @Home entranced investors for a while, including some of the Valley’s top venture firms–just as Hulu has entranced at least one VC.
Hulu has shown an ability to attract non-owner media companies as content partners (Sony and MGM, for example), but this doesn’t mean much: As far as we know, Hulu isn’t requiring anything of these partners–no exclusivity, for example–and it’s likely cutting them a sweet revenue share (which is good for them, but not for Hulu).
Unfortunately, when the weakness of @Home’s business model was finally revealed, it went bust, and its stock went to zero. At this point, we’re not expecting much more from Hulu.
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