Google vs. Hulu: can it be avoided?

Google and Hulu may be two totally separate and different companies, but they do share one important trait: they don't mind picking a fight. Starting with search, Google pushed and shoved its way into many more markets previously thought to be saturated, mature, or impenetrable. They've reshaped the Internet, and specifically how to make money by advertising in it, in more ways than anyone could have imagined back in 2002. Hulu, against all odds, formed a shaky but viable bond between content provider and content consumer in their eponymous media streaming website. Soon, according to NewTeeVee, they'll be picking a fight with each other, and neither will come out the better for it.

At their annual I/O conference last week, Google announced their plans to release Google TV, a piece of software that runs on top of your TV, transforming it into an entertainment nexus, indexing online offerings as well as local media for easy and streamlined access. Hulu videos will be searched as well, as it is simply a Google search, and Hulu is just as indexed as Youtube. The big question is going to be whether or not Hulu will pull a Boxee in response. Boxee, much like Google TV, is an open source software platform that turns your TV into an entertainment center, with access to online and local media. One of the selling points of the product was its ability to stream Hulu. Hulu, unfortunately, pulled out their support for Boxee and caused the platform to lose much of its popularity. Hulu cited the demands of the content providers as the impetus for the pull-out. The providers joined Hulu so that Hulu would distribute their content, not so the rest of the world could pass it on. If the content leaves Hulu, it is no longer under the control of the provider, and the media companies don't want that.

This could very conceivably happen again, but this time Hulu is up against much bigger quarry than Boxee. Google's uneasiness about Hulu was evident at the developers conference Google TV demonstration when the presenter skipped over Hulu search results and played a trailer from Amazon.com instead. Google’s VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, didn't guarantee that Hulu videos would play on Google TV. He said that it was technically possible, but that it would ultimately be up to the content providers.

The other big difference between this and the Boxee saga is that Google is releasing a more robust, open-source, and flexible system than Boxee's software. It's not going to be Google's responsibility to block content, because they don't drive the content; they are simply providing a framework. Hulu will have to be the side to take decisive action. That could come in the form of increased security (which smart coders will almost certainly break) and possibly a total halt on plans to switch to HTML 5 in order to focus on securing their flash content. This is ultimately counterproductive as far as the consumer is concerned, and will hurt both products.

NewTeeVee suggests that the two sides make peace before the war begins. The solution may not be simple, and it will be a serious compromise on both sides, but if they don't figure this out soon, this could get ugly pretty quickly.

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