At the same time, Hulu backers made it clear that the site will not be fully launched by September, a target date its parents had suggested in the past might be possible. An announcement from Hulu tells people who visit the project's new website that they can sign up to be invited to a "private beta" that will be available in October.
"In the interest of delivering a great customer experience and making sure that we can address any feedback that comes along the way, we're going to start small and grow iteratively in terms of the volumes of people that we invite to participate in the beta. Within that same timeframe, we will also be offering great programming through our distribution partner sites: AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace, and Yahoo," reads a letter from Jason Kilar, a former Amazon executive who was named CEO of the project in late June.
Trying to harness online video
Hulu represents one effort by the nation's big media conglomerates to harness the power of online video. Sites such as YouTube have begun to usurp the place of big content providers such as NBC and News Corp., who have long depended on their own TV networks and other distribution methods to pump out comedy, drama and the like to millions of consumers. But online-video sites are filled with clips from average people who create their own content or snippets of mainstream programs that are recorded by consumers and then posted online.
This trend wreaks havoc with media companies' revenue models, because consumers have wrested the content -- and the chance to sell it to advertisers -- away from the companies that produced it in the first place. At the same time, ad dollars spent on online video are expected to soar over time. By 2011, U.S. online-video advertising will increase to $4.3 billion from $410 million in 2006, according to eMarketer.
Originally slated to make its debut this summer, the News Corp.-NBC site is expected to contain full episodes and clips from programs such as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Simpsons" as well as movies. The two companies have said it will reach 98% of the monthly U.S. unique internet users and have secured distribution agreements from parties such as AOL, CNET, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo. Charter advertisers include Cisco, Cadbury Schweppes, Intel and General Motors.
'Inherently fun name'
Of course, one large question remains: Why "Hulu"? As Mr. Kilar explained on the site today, "Objectively, Hulu is short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and rhymes with itself. Subjectively, Hulu strikes us as an inherently fun name, one that captures the spirit of the service we're building. Our hope is that Hulu will embody our (admittedly ambitious) never-ending mission, which is to help you find and enjoy the world's premier content when, where and how you want it."
Time will tell if "Hulu" is fun for consumers -- or profitable and useful for its owners. The name could be seen as "kind of goofy," said Jonathan Asher, exec VP at New York brand-design consultancy Sterling Brands. But names of other successful web concerns have been equally wacky -- think Google or Yahoo -- and have gone on to become memorable monikers.
In years past, backers of such companies might try to give their properties a name that was more literal, and very close to the function of the site. But literal names "tend to be less distinctive and kind of boring, and the more unexpected," and less literal names are the ones that people latch on to and over time develop meaning, Mr. Asher said.