Will Hulu Plus Hook TV Fans, or Overwhelm Them?


Consumers of embarrassing, throwaway television have always had trouble reconciling their enjoyment of shows they know are trashy and lowbrow. There are but so many layers of irony in which you can swaddle your appointment viewing of Hell's Kitchen, a finite number of Twitter insults you can lob at The View, no drinking game diabolical enough to mask the fact that you're watching Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane.

But thanks to technology, there's a tidy solution. You watch your favorite guilty pleasure shows, but small and while you're doing other things. Take my consumption of The Bachelorette, for example. I could easily set my DVR to record the show, then play it back on my 67-inch television. But to do so would lend too much grandeur to Ali Fedotowsky's whining and Zoolander-style scrunchy-pout faces. Instead, I wait until the next day and watch the show on Hulu. I'm reading the news in one half of the screen, making dinner plans with a friend via IM in a corner, and in the remaining corner if there so happens to be a bright-eyed blonde enjoying an awkward three-person date on an Icelandic glacier, that's fine too.

My habits would put me squarely in the target market for Hulu Plus, the popular video site's recently deployed premium plan. For $10 per month, in addition to the content Hulu has been providing for free—usually limited to the most recent five episodes of popular shows—Hulu Plus provides viewers with entire current seasons of shows, as well as some entire series. Users can also watch on other devices, including iPhone, iPad, enabled Blu-Ray players, and, soon, game consoles. When I heard about Hulu Plus, I immediately rushed over to the site to request an invite to join the service. But in the interim, I've decided that as good as Hulu Plus sounds, I'm not sure I'll end up joining after all.

I have no qualms about the service itself. It's reasonably priced and stocked with lots of quality content, which will only increase in volume as contracts with networks get squared away. But therein lies the issue. How much Hollywood product do I have time to watch? Better put, how much can I stand? I watch television for a living, so I already spend huge chunks of my time in front of the tube, and maybe I'm not the type of person who needs access to what Hulu Plus wants to offer. But I can honestly say that if all the mandatory television watching I do were scraped off my plate, I'd still feel positively daunted by the amount of television—good television, at that—that I would have access to.

Part of the problem is that we are, no kidding, in the midst of a golden age of television. There's so much great stuff on, you'll never have time for it all. And every week someone will add to your list. ("What do you mean you don't watch That Really Great Cable Drama? I'm shocked to my very core!") We all draw arbitrary lines when it comes to television commitments. No matter how great Show X is, if you have too many things you're watching already, you have to ignore it, because your leisure time is limited and it must be used wisely. It'll be no different for users of Hulu Plus, who will have access to deep catalogs of shows that, in spite of quality and good intentions, they'll probably never ever watch. Ten dollars a month is cheap, but not for something you don't actually use.

Knowing me, I'll still probably give Hulu Plus a try, if only to test out the mobile apps, because 30 Rock makes for good sauna conversation. But if my actual viewing habits pan out the way I expect them to, I doubt I'll be keeping it for more than a month or two. I'll still watch Hulu, but it'll return to its primary function of making my shame-shows as small as watching them makes me feel.