Updated. Web video site Hulu is a big hit with viewers — people watched some 227 million videos on the site in November, according to comScore. But it’s also a hit with some TV show pirates: They’re using the site as a source for TV episodes, which they strip the ads from and re-distribute via tools like BitTorrent.
The Pirate Bay, for example, has about 25 search hits matching “Hulu,” including episodes of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and an old “Colbert Report.”
Why Hulu episodes? From what we’ve read in Pirate Bay episode descriptions, they’re high quality and often don’t include the same TV watermarks that broadcast and cable stations use. (And, based on our experience legitimately using Hulu, have fewer commercials than broadcast or cable TV.) They’re also relatively easy to rip — no TV equipment required.
Why put them on BitTorrent when they’re free on Hulu? To view internationally, where Hulu isn’t available, we suppose. Or to convert to a file format that’ll play back on an Apple (AAPL) iPod or iPhone, we assume. Some pirates probably do it just because they can. (The downside: Shows often don’t show up on Hulu until the next day, or even a week later. Many pirates move faster than that.)
Hulu is not a source for “statistically significant pirate activity,” according to Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, a media measurement firm. The vast majority of TV is pirated from cable, satellite, and broadcast feeds.
Even still, we imagine Hulu and parent companies News Corp. (NWS) and NBC (GE) aren’t thrilled about this practice.
Someday, they’ll have solutions, like international editions and maybe even downloadable episodes for portable gadgets. But for now, piracy is something they’re going to have to deal with or ignore. (Bigger picture: Hulu itself might be stopping enough traditional TV piracy that this isn’t that big of a deal.)
We’ve asked Hulu what they do about piracy — prevention and reaction — and will follow up if we hear back.