Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hulu skirts viewers' resistance to ads with new strategies

Just as studies begin to show that TV viewers are spending more time online, a new video provider is making its debut. Hulu, a partnership between NBC Universal and Fox, launched today after completing its test phase. The site offers full-length episodes and clips from current shows like Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, as well as older stuff like The Addams Family and Welcome Back, Kotter. One of the objectives, of course, is to generate ad revenue--but Hulu's approach is somewhat unique, as The Washington Post reports:

Hulu's advertising strategy is to be both targeted and minimal. Each show has a single sponsor. It is experimenting with allowing users to choose which ads to view, and with showing movie trailers upfront in exchange for shows without commercial breaks. But unlike other sites -- such as NBC and Fox's independent sites -- it doesn't try to keep users captive; if users search for television shows or movies that aren't available on Hulu, they are directed to other sites. Users can also embed snippets of content from Hulu in their blogs or online profiles.

Allowing users to chose ads is innovative, some analysts said.

"It's one of the more aggressive moves we've seen," said Bobby Tulsiani, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "It's much more targeted than what you see on TV, where its hard to say if an ad actually got watched."

My take is that letting viewers choose their ads is a great strategy, and a likely sign of things to come. After all, why not let the audience watch a pitch for a product they're interested in, instead of making them sit through one that's completely off target? It's more evidence of the power of engagement over interruption, and the benefits of recognizing that consumers are in control. It's about captivating viewers, instead of trying to hold them captive.

Have you checked out Hulu yet? Do you think the ads are less invasive than they are elsewhere--and does that make you more likely to come back to the site?

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