OPENhulu: setting Hulu's videos free?

This is a guest post by Muhammad Saleem, a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.

HuluIt was called a stupid idea at first and then ridiculed for its name. But once people had a chance to look at the site’s lineup of shows and try it out, it was praised as a worthy competitor. The service I’m talking about is of course Hulu, the multi-million dollar online television streaming (video on demand) venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. Most people haven’t had the chance to try the service yet because of the highly exclusive closed private beta but today we are talking with Matt, who has found a way to get around the “closed private beta” problem without breaking any rules.

Most online video services allow you to embed the videos into blogs and websites in an effort to increase their branding and in the hopes of driving traffic back to the originating site. But what would happen if someone took all your embeds and called it a day? Let’s find out.

Hi Matt, thanks for taking out the time to chat with us. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m basically what you’d call an Serial Internet Entrepreneur. From writing for an online gaming magazine to producing a 72 hour game show, I’ve done it all. But on a more personal note? I like cold pizza and green tea, reading about quantum physics and debating whether or not there is a god. I don’t sleep and my eyes constantly burn from reading tech blogs in dim lighting. I am, to put it bluntly, addicted to and amazed with the power of the internet.

Before we get to OPENhulu, let me get your thoughts on online video and your favorite service for enjoying video on the web.

It really depends. When it comes to random videos I’m not really one to blindly browse YouTube. I’m more the guy who lets Digg or Break find the good ones first. Personally I like to use Revver. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the 50% ad revenue they promise.

When it comes to live streaming, however, I would go with ustream.tv. I’ve used many live streaming sites and ustream.tv is the easiest and fastest by far. Back in October I co- produced a 72 hour game show which was streamed live using ustream.tv. We ended up hitting the front page of Digg, peaking at 1.2k simultaneous viewers, and holding around 700 for 24 hours straight and the site didn’t lag once. (Disclosure: I recently represented them at Blogworld.)

What do you think about ABC and other companies that have launched their own web-based services to stream their shows online for free?

I think the whole spat with Apple was uncalled for and a bad move. However, TV has been going down hill for a while. The shows are often set at conflicting times and sometimes when you can’t possibly watch them. What if you don’t want to watch Heroes at 9pm? Maybe you have a business meeting, or your kid needs to get to somewhere. Well, iTunes was one approach to this but it was pay per view.

Online streaming services (such as Hulu), on the other hand, are free and you can watch all the TV shows on your own time and the only price is the advertisements that you have to watch a few times during each program. My only complaint would have to be the quality. It’s decent but not great.

One problem is that unlike ABC and some other television channels that stream their shows or parts of their shows online, Hulu is still in a closed private beta. I can tell you, I had a hard time getting my hands on an invite. Have you had a chance to check it out and what are your thoughts on the service as a whole?

I only got my invite a week or so ago and I’d have to agree with you, it definitely was not easy to get. Apart from the quality, I think its a great service. Obviously it’s not supporting every television channel but I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more either joined or started their own sites. Currently they have a little over 150 shows including some of my favorites (Heroes, The Office, Family Guy) and 18 different television networks.

Hulu has a suggest feature much like YouTube or any other video site, so really its not only a place to watch television shows but you can actually find new shows. Hulu really is too easy to not catch on. I can’t wait to see what happens when they come out of beta. I was just thinking the other day that its too bad not everyone can enjoy it right now.

And after thinking that, you came up with an idea so that anyone can enjoy Hulu without having to beg for invites. How did you manage to do this?

Well you see, Hulu allows you to embed the videos onto your blog or site. It’s supposed to be used to put one or two videos on your site, but what if you decide to put all of them? I’m working on putting all of Hulu’s embeds onto my own site, OPENhulu, using the site’s embeds. This way Hulu isn’t so much a “closed beta” and now everyone can enjoy their content.

It’s very tedious work but I know how much I personally value being able to stream quality television shows from the internet, and I imagine it’s the same for most other people. At the same time, what do i get out if? Well I’m really hoping I can help a few friends out without getting a cease and desist letter. Technically the only thing I’m doing wrong is using the name “Hulu” in my domain, so we’ll see what happens.

I mean, its not like I’m stripping the commercials from the videos or anything. Besides that its mainly the satisfaction of sticking it to the man and bending the rules. Hulu “invites” for everyone!

So you’ve looked through their agreements, terms of conditions and other legal text and have found that you’re not infringing on any of their terms? I hope you dont get sued either because I want people to be able to enjoy the service. But you have to take into account that the companies involved have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. What makes it more troublesome perhaps is that you’re making money from your site.

As it turns out, the ads happened to be filled with NBC banners. So really, they’re paying to be on a site that consists of content completely ripped from themselves. As for their terms and conditions, I’ve looked through the documentation on their site and I didn’t find anything that was against this. If they fight me for some reason I’m going to be more than happy to shut the site down and fully comply with anything they ask.

So there you have it. If you’ve been unsuccessfully hunting for a hulu invite for a while, look no further than to OPENhulu.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

18 Responses to “OPENhulu: setting Hulu's videos free?”

  1. Martin says:

    Simple but very nice idea! Next step: bypass the ip lock for people outside the US ;)

  2. Dru says:

    It’s still fucking useless because the damn shows aren’t viewable outside the sacred holy ground that is the United States of Fuck Everybody Else.

  3. JO-JO says:

    There is a reason companies do betas. Its not as though they are restricting users for the hell of it. By reposting the videos for the internet at large (and its attendant thirst for bandwidth), you may not be compromising the EULA, but you are very likely being a big pain in the neck to the guys who are still stomping the bugs.

  4. Gary says:

    Yeeeaaaaah! What Dru said (‘cept for all the F-words).

  5. Smumdax says:

    Unfortunately, I’m from Canada and it seems I can’t access any of the videos. I get the message that the video is not available where I am… Hope this won’t be the same in the final release of the website… what’s the use in having a website to get more viewers from around the worl, only to limit it to some regions…

  6. Jerryatrix says:

    I’ve got Hulu invites if anyone wants em, just contact me via site. So far it seems quite good, lots of content and they’ve done a really nice job with the selection – Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Heroes, etc..all on the list.

    BUT the biggest problem is that it’s geo-locked so only American IP’s can access it-which is a real shame because I have a dynamic ip and sometimes my IP for some reason is mistaken as not being from America, which is odd since I’m with Comcast in eastern US. So that really sucks, but it’s a good service if they could iron out the problem with it being US-centric , as well as at least fix the ip ban on some American ip addresses.

  7. Jake says:

    Nice attempt. But, as an ex-pat living abroad I can’t view any of the shows. No worries though, I’ll just download them from a torrent network.

  8. Faris Jefri says:

    Well it’s a great idea, but falls short i guess. It only works for 5% of the population:

    http://digg.com/tech_news/OpenHuluhNot

  9. F.D. Athow says:

    OpenHulu… Great idea, except it will be quickly forgotten as Hulu turns from beta to real. It’s a bit like someone came up with a way of circumventing Gmail’s invite system only for Gmail to become available one year later….. Oh, and it is next to useless for everyone outside the US. Case in point, I’ve got a hulu.com invite but I can’t use it because I am not in the states. How lame is that?

  10. Simon says:

    I have the same issue as Jerratrix, some of the time my IP works, sometimes I get told I’m not in the USA – I’m in Los Angeles, not far from Universal City :( GeoIP is only maybe 90% useful at best, it bugs me that companies are taking it for 100%. At one point I was working for a Fortune 50 and our IP range in all the offices in the world was from our German office – highly annoying having some sites default to German instead of looking at browser language.

  11. tutva says:

    I’ll take an invite if anyone’s got one. Would love to try it out.

  12. David Mackey says:

    Well, the sites still up at this point, but I can’t imagine it staying up much longer.

  13. Brentp says:

    A little bit of info on the IP geo-locking.

    It comes down to how TV shows are licenced/syndicated. Shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy, Heros, etc are shown all over the world and they do so by the channels who want to show them paying a fee. Burried in among all the contractual jargon are rules governing how the show can be broadcast, specifically that the licence is only valid for a particular country. Broadcasting that content on the internet allows viewers from other countries to see those shows.

    If you, as say an Australian TV company, paid xxx amount for the rights to broadcast a series of Heros in Australia, you can kick back knowing it will draw in the viewers, meaning more eyeballs on the ads your channel airs, giving you more money in the pot from the companies who pay to advertise with you. If those viewers can instead watch an American channel online, with their adverts (which contribute to that channel’s income), then the massive amounts of cash you ‘invested’ in being able to air a particular show was all for nothing.

    So, online TV content tends to be geo-coded and sadly it isn’t just hulu, the BBC restrict their online video content to UK-only IP addresses and I’m sure other broadcasters in other countries do the same.

    It just further highlights how the global broadcasting infrastructure wasn’t really designed to cope with online media and how desperately in need of an overhaul it is.

  14. Paradisio says:

    Another Hulu “mirror”, but with all shows/episodes available, a clean interface and fullscreen player :
    http://tvparadise.org/

  15. Fireveo says:

    Check out OnAirToday.com to fetch videos from around the web.

    Also try out Fireveo – It’s a Video Toolbar for your browser that gets the latest video feeds. It’s free!
    http://www.fireveo.com

  16. Brian says:

    I cannot believe that so tech guru has not figured out a way to redirect the feed so as to allow the rest of us to view with out the geo-lock.

    I am in Canada, so it isn’t like we are not inundated with US programing already, lol.

  17. Jim Minosin says:

    OpenHulu will fail to function in Canada due to Geo Ip refusal beyond the USA and to a point will also fail with proxy access..

  18. thinker says:

    if you dont live inside the states than use a us screaning site. it will mask your ip. and give you one from where it is. i was told about one called saveyourass.com check it out and dont complain when there are so many loop holes