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Hulu and the expectations game

Expect nothing--or better yet expect a total trainwreck--and you're always pleasantly surprised.That axiom is at play today as Hulu--the online video venture of Fox and NBC launches.

Expect nothing--or better yet expect a total trainwreck--and you're always pleasantly surprised.

That axiom is at play today as Hulu--the online video venture of Fox and NBC launches. The online service, which was launched to be a YouTube-ish competitor, is in private beta and the blogger class has spoken. In a nutshell, Hulu doesn't stink and actually it's pretty good. TechCrunch likes it. Kara Swisher is eating her words.

Go figure.

If Hulu, which outlined its beta in a blog post, succeeds it will go against a lot of conventional wisdom. Joint ventures generally don't work--although that Verizon-Vodaphone thing with Verizon Wireless is just swell--and old media just can't get the new media thing.

So what's different this time? A few thoughts:

  • TV has always been different. TV got the Web thing way ahead of the print guys. CNN.com and MSNBC.com ran circles around the print guys--until recently.
  • Short shows are the Web's sweet spot. The Web is moving toward the packaging that NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox understand--half hour to an hour of programming with advertising thrown in.
  • The content is good. Simpsons, Hereos and SciFi shows play to the Web/techie crowd.
  • Media companies are more experimental. Sure Viacom has a penchant to sue, but most media giants are too busy throwing models up against the Web to see what sticks.
  • TV folks are motivated. These guys saw the Internet eat up the music industry, which then ceded power to Steve Jobs and Apple. The TV types have learned from the music industry's mistakes.

Now Hulu reportedly doesn't get the user generated thing just yet and you can't download shows. But it has exceeded low expectations so far and could generate some momentum. Stay tuned. The bar is being raised for Hulu.

Disclosure: CNET, parent of ZDNet, is a Hulu.com distribution partner.