If this is the future...give me the past, thanks.
By Bruce A Johnson | December 14, 2010
It's kind of hard to believe I started gushing over the Roku box over two years ago... and again here... and here. This little plastic box has really revolutionized the distribution of content, from heavy hitters like Netflix, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, to middle-level new entrants like the TwiT Network and Revision 3, to seemingly home-grown efforts like Trigger Talk TV and Proud Television. In fact, the Roku Box just passed the 100-channel point, and there doesn't seem to be any limit to what the little box can offer.It's in the wake of this that the folks at Hulu decided to offer their new pay-service, Hulu Plus, on the Roku and several other devices. As a consequence of buying a Roku for my mother-in-law for a Christmas present (shhhhh! Don't tell her!) I got a 1-month free trial of Hulu Plus. What I have seen in the last few weeks doesn't give me a lot of optimism for Hulu Plus as a service.First, the good: Same-week streaming of network programming from Fox, NBC and ABC, the three co-owners of Hulu. This means you can catch up on your "Glee," "Modern Family" and "30 Rock" fixes without a DVR. But sadly, that's pretty much where the good times end.Much has been written about Hulu Plus' allegedly fabulous interface, but really, it seems to me to be much too linear and inflexible, arraying long lists of programs in a horizontal line for you to page through. And while they do have a fairly good selection of network programming, there are many odd omissions (where, for instance, is Fox's "The Simpsons"?) And beyond the network TV fare is a very limited list (about 525 at last count) of B-movies and unheard-of documentaries that weren't very popular in their first incarnations. But worst of all is the inclusion of commercials in a service that you have to cough up $8 a month for. In a previous life, I switched a lot of master control for a network affiliate station. All of us MC switchers knew what was at stake in every break, and we strove to make the flow as seamless and - dare I say it - artistic as possible. If Hulu has any humans inserting the commercials into their shows, I suggest they get replaced immediately. However, I'm quite certain that the closest any beating heart gets to this process is punching a schedule into a computer and pushing the "go" button. Breaks are poorly executed, oftentimes jumping into a show early (in the biz this is known as a "downcut",) sometimes to the point where you miss the punchline of a meticulously-crafted joke in a show like "30 Rock." And as dismal an experience as this is, it is a hundred times worse in long-form programs without defined breaks. One of the few documentaries I wanted to watch in the Hulu Plus list was "For All Mankind", a meticulous recounting of the NASA Apollo moon landing missions. It kind of breaks up the flow of the show when as the Lunar Module is starting it's descent to the Moon, a clumsy cut inserts a commercial for REI. And this happens just about every five minutes! Add to this the occasional video lockup and it makes for an experience that doesn't really merit the $8 per month they are demanding - especially when the new Netflix streaming-only service (albeit without the same-season network TV programming) costs the same, with much better streaming, a much, MUCH larger selection of content, and no commercials.In short, I predict a quick death for Hulu Plus. The service just doesn't justify the expense. Have you tried Hulu Plus out? What do you think of it?