And I agree. Having played around with Hulu a little, I'm very impressed by the look and feel of the site, and the easy to use navigation tools. The site is clean, intuitive and very simple -- exactly the kind of thing I didn't expect from the networks. Hulu, I think, is a winner, and may finally be the vehicle Old Media needs to regain its youth. The final stamp of approval, at least at the Malone house, was that Tad, my 16 year-old, heard about Hulu at school and started playing with it. Now it's a regular feature on his screen. And if NBC can capture Tad, who rarely watches television -- except for pirated shows on the web -- it can get anybody.
By coincidence, I ordered from Amazon this week a collection of three videos, six one-hour specials total, of a TV series from the 1950s that I watched as a very little boy and never forgot. To my mind, they are the greatest -- and certainly the most influential -- science documentaries ever shown on television. Four of them, called "The Wonders of Life" were produced by Frank Capra (yeah, that Frank Capra). The series, still with the same host, was then retitled the Bell Science Series for at least two more specials.
I've been watching them with my 12 year-old, Tim. All are constructed the same way, with an avuncular host (Dr. Frank Baxter) who leads us on a kind of mystery quest to solve a scientific riddle: cosmic rays, blood, weather, the mind. That quest includes everything from laboratory footage to cartoons, charts and graphs, live experiments, even marionettes (needless to say, there is no CGI or other special effects). It sounds crazy; but the results are magnificent, even after all these years, mostly because of the sheer confidence of the narrative (they actually believe they can teach 6-year-olds about atomic particles) and the amazing competence of the production team. It is no wonder that these documentaries are not only legendary but credited with helping turn an entire generation of Boomers into budding scientists.
Watching these shows was a reminder of the days when network television really was on the leading edge of technology (instead of trailing behind), when it understood and respected its audience (instead of discrediting it) and when it brought new ideas to its viewers (rather than the reverse today).
Hulu isn't Capra. But it's a start, and it's better than anything we've seen to date when it comes to the Old Media and the Web. The offerings are still a little thin, the inventory of content still comparatively shallow, but the structure is good. NBC and News Corp. already have signed on Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, the NBA and the NHL.
And yesterday, Les Moonvies of CBS hinted that his network might try the same thing -- or perhaps even sign on to Hulu. Either would be a good idea for the Depends Network, but to my mind the smart move would be to join Hulu and keep pumping it up with content. This is not a time to compete with Hulu, but rather to turn it into an ersatz common carrier.
And ABC? Well, now we're talking about the Mouse. And Disney is in bed with Apple, so to speak. But that doesn't mean that ABC/Disney content couldn't be on both sites -- isn't that what multiplatform selling is all about -- and give users the choice between ownership-without-ads and viewership-with-commercials.
But then, that would require the kind of strategic thinking and trust in viewers that the Networks haven't shown since, well, the '50s.