The media and its blogger brethren have been buzzing over Google-owned YouTube’s announcement this week that it has done some deals with Hollywood to ratchet up its “premium” content (ie, that not involving dogs on skateboards). This comes only days after it struck a deal with Universal Music Group to co-run a new music video site called Vevo. But does this mean Hulu is dead meat? Far from it. In fact, it’s more an indication of Hulu’s success that a site with more than a dozen times its traffic is scrambling to do such deals in the first place. Why? Because Hulu’s growth in recent months has been double digits, according to Nielsen. It’s the 2nd most used online video site after YouTube and, while lagging in eyeballs, remains a threat. Meanwhile, YouTube has seen its growth plateau and even shrink recently. Google doesn’t scare easy. And it doesn’t seem to be in panic mode. But Hulu has been creeping up on YouTube just enough, it seems, to demand a response.
So what now? YouTube told reporters that this is only the beginning. Its initial deals with Sony Pictures, CBS, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Starz and the BBC will preface more such deals with other studios and TV production firms. Unclear is whether YouTube will focus on TV content or movies—or both equally. This week’s deal seems more focused on movies, if only because much of the TV fare in question amounts to old re-runs. But that could change over time. In some ways, putting studio movies online is more complicated because of windowing that must take care of theater owners, DVD distributors, premium movie nets, cable VOD schedules, etc. Some of the same issues vex TV series. But Hulu has proven—at least when it comes to broadcast TV fare not dependent on a dual revenue stream—that windowing in the TV universe is relatively flexible when a couple of big media giants make the decision to put it all online. And pretty darned quickly at that. In addition, YouTube has already raised the possibility of charging fees for its premium fare. Good luck. So far, consumers are trained to get it for free and tolerate some ads (thanks, Hulu). Retraining them may be more difficult than anyone currently imagines.
YouTube is still the king of online video. Hulu’s traffic can’t yet compare. But Hulu also offers a compelling product that YouTube may or may not be able to match by forging numerous Hollywood partnerships. And not to give the power of Hollywood’s insular culture too much credit, but the folks running Hulu are from “the biz” while those running YouTube are basically from Silicon Valley. But maybe this time the valley of silicon is ready to mesh more harmoniously with the valley of… uh, valley girls. Not to relive the 1980s, but maybe it’s time to start a new catch-phrase: YouTubular. Yeah. For sure, for sure.