Hulu subscribers can now go commercial-free

Streaming video service Hulu will start offering subscribers an option to eliminate advertising during programs, the company announced today.
The move is significant because Hulu has traditionally thought to be against any business model that didn’t include commercials, which were identical to those found on cable and satellite television and nearly as lucrative. And since Hulu’s owners consist of major media companies (Comcast, Disney, News Corp.) — all firmly pro-advertising (or so it seemed) — it didn’t seem like that would ever change. However, it looks like the move was done at least in part to make Hulu more competitive against the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Hulu has priced the new ad-free option at $12 per month, $4 more than the base subscription, which the company will continue offering. At that price, it seems crazy not to spend a little bit more not to have to see the same irritating rotation of commercial interruptions 3 to 5 times per episode. (And with Fall TV premiere season right around the corner, I’m guessing a lot of people will chose to upgrade to ad-free.)
It’s also interesting that Hulu opted to price the ad-free option on par with HBO Go and Netflix. With the exception of CBS and a few popular cable networks like AMC and BBC America, Hulu gives subscribers access to far more current-season content than Sling TV, which starts at $20 monthly.
The new subscription option also comes days after Hulu announced it had secured a licensing deal to add hundreds of popular films from movie service Epix — just as competitor Netflix ends its own contract.
At 9 million subscribers, Hulu is still far behind Netflix’s 42 million domestic customers. But it’ll definitely be interesting to see if there’s any fallout from these two developments — with Netflix users canceling their service for Hulu, much in the same way Apple Music is challenging Spotify for greater marketshare.

First lesson of viral video: No monkey business

20th Century Fox released a viral video last week that supposedly documents African soldiers giving an ape an AK-47, only to have the monkey open fire on them. The video has attracted millions of views on YouTube, but also provoked a wave of racist comments.

Today in Cleantech

Smart grid — what’s in it for us? That’s the question that big industrial and commercial power customers are asking of the multi-billion dollar smart grid push that will eventually extend into the buildings they own, according to a recent opinion piece by Bob Zak, president of Powerit Solutions. As far as he’s concerned, it’s not clear that utilities are making the right pitch to their biggest power users. He should know, working for a company that specializes in industrial power management gear made to link to smart grid and demand response programs. Without smart buildings to talk to the smart grid, big industrial and commercial clients could find that new technology doesn’t really yield a payback. After all, if your building can’t react to demand response signals, it can’t really capitalize on the opportunity to shed power load to make money. Things could get even worse as utilities move more toward time-of-use and variable power pricing to get customers to lower power use during peak demand times, since those that don’t upgrade their own buildings could be stuck paying much higher power costs.

Apple iPhone Ad Voice Guy Ruins Christmas in New Commercial

The guy from Apple’s (s aapl) “There’s an App for That” series of commercials does a fine, upstanding job, don’t get me wrong. He’s a credit to his profession, in fact, and has become iconically associated with one of the most successful products ever released. But he’s seriously ruining Christmas.

A new Apple ad in the series features an app-centric take on the classic “12 Days of Christmas” holiday carol, as rendered with uncompromising unmusicality by the voice that smugly informs us about everything there’s an app for. The apps don’t correspond to the actual items described in the original tune, but instead highlight various holiday-time activities. Read More about Apple iPhone Ad Voice Guy Ruins Christmas in New Commercial

Congress Tackles Loud Commercials

Health care shmealth care — government is finally working to solve a problem we can all get behind: loud commercials. The House Communications Subcommittee has approved a bill that would require broadcasters and operators (including satellite and cable) to normalize the volume of TV advertisements.

Broadcasting & Cable writes that the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) is backed by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.):

Eshoo said the bill premise was simple: “To make the volume of commercials and programming uniform so that spikes in volume do not affect the consumer’s ability to control sound.” Eshoo said that ad volume spikes had “endangered hearing for decades.” She also said legislative spouses had been urging their husbands or wives to sign on as co-sponsors. “I think they are all tired of getting blasted out of their easy chairs or off their exercise equipment due to these ridiculously loud commercials.”

After the fast-forward button (to zap through the commercials entirely), “mute” is the second most used button on the Albrecht remote. I’m not sure why advertisers think that YELLING at us will make us like their product, but hopefully this bill will pass and the TV will quiet down.

It looks like the bill only addresses oldteevee, which is too bad because we’ve noticed that newteevee sites definitely fiddle with the ad volume as well.

Letterboxed Messages Help Elude Commercial Zappers

Obsessed was a movie starring Beyonce that opened last month just before the big summer blockbuster season. The TV trailer for Obsessed caught my eye not because it looked like a good movie, but rather because of its layout. The picture was letterboxed, but instead of empty black bars along the top and bottom, there was a static message in big white letters on top that had the film’s URL,, that persisted throughout the entire ad.

My first reaction was that it made the movie seem cheap, like it wasn’t memorable enough on its own so the marketing team had to slap a plug for its web site along the top. But as I fast-forwarded through it on my DVR, it dawned on me — with no sound and the action sped up, I could still read the web address. It may be a blunt way to get your message across, but it could have helped Obsessed open at No. 1 that weekend, pulling in $28.6 million.

Of course, there were other factors that contributed to the success of that movie (it starred Beyonce), and it wasn’t the first time that tactic was used. Teen-angsty vampire flick Twilight also featured the release date in the letterbox last year (and was a huge hit), and observers online report seeing it used for older films like Pineapple Express and Sex Drive.

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Vid-Biz: Panasonic, Time Warner, UGC

Panasonic to Cut 15,000 Jobs, or 5 Percent of Its Workforce; facing tough times the consumer electronics giant will also close 27 manufacturing sites (12 percent of its worldwide production facilities). (The Wall Street Journal)

Time Warner Expanding Metered Broadband; details are few, but more cities to face the cable company’s stingy policies — better watch what you download. (GigaOM)

Nearly Half of U.S. Internet Users to View UGC Vids by 2013; this is up from 36 percent in 2008. (eMarketer)

NaviSite Hooks Up with EdgeCast Networks; partnership will yield a new portfolio of CDN-based services such as caching, electronic file delivery, streaming, API tools and support. (emailed release)

Italian Judge Suspends Decision in Google Video Case; Criminal Court of Milan pauses to consider procedural issues (it’s a common occurrence), proceedings to continue Feb. 18. (see our previous coverage) (The Privacy Advisor)

Commercials Make TV More Enjoyable? New NYU study finds that people who watched TV with commercial breaks included rated their experience higher. Huh? (The Live Feed)

Matt Smith Joins Inlet Technologies; Smith was previously with Yahoo and is now the senior director, systems architecture for the encoding company. (release (PDF)