Oh Hulu, we hardly knew ye.
After riding a staggering wave of popularity for its free, easily-accessible Internet streaming service, which provided some of the best television around, Hulu may find its ocean of loyal fans drying up after end-of-summer changes leveraged by Fox left a boatload of the most popular TV series on the website in an eight-day limbo before they can be accessed by many viewers.
This news struck me particularly hard. As a self-professed miser, I enjoy all things cheap. I use public transportation rather than paying for a car and I prefer to keep my quarter in lieu of McMega-Sizing my fast food meal. So when I found out that Fox had gone behind my back to tip the scales in favor of those who pay for a subscription to Hulu Plus and DISH (where network shows will still be available the day following their airing), I found myself both hurt and confused.
In a world where piracy lands in-demand television shows and movies right on the desktop of any average computer user hours after they air, the fact that I am willing to subject myself to a one-day wait time and several annoying commercials just to enjoy my media in a more legal fashion should carry a significant weight. But rather than reward those like myself, who provide networks with an audience that they can sell to advertisers, it seems that Fox has chosen to pressure free users on Hulu to pony up some dough.
FOX and other networks jumping on this bandwagon should not hold so dearly to the notion that their audience shares their belief that they can own and distribute their shows as they see fit. While that model of copyright is tough to argue against in theory, the masses have already chosen the opposite side in practice, as evidenced by the doubling rate of piracy for popular FOX shows like Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef in the days following Fox’s policy shift on Hulu, according to BetaBeat.
While the ethics of copyright laws in the age of the Internet are still up in the air, one thing is clear: this is just bad business, and Hulu may suffer dearly.
I hope that television networks recognize that the paradigm shift that came with the advent of the Internet means that customers may no longer be lining up to fork over their money for a service that can so easily be found for free in other places. If not, they may soon find themselves saving their quarters in fast food joints, too.