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OTT Network and three Guvnors

By PETER WHITE

Published: 11 January, 2013

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There is a sensational comedy hit in London's West End called One Man, Two Guvnors, and in 2012 it made the leap to Broadway in the US. It is an adaptation of an Italian play from the 1740s called the Servant of Two Masters.

When we finally write up the history of Hulu, and the journey of Kason Kilar, we may be tempted to call it "One OTT service, Three Guvnors."

The likely end to that particular play will be the genius villain who actually made the OTT service work, being thrown to the mercy of the jobless, while a "yes" man is installed, who comically can only say the word "Yes," after each of his masters speaks.

Kilar, who as the Hulu founding CEO, took on a task that we always said was impossible, and made some kind of sense of it. Whenever we said that Hulu could not work, friendly Americans told us that 'Hulu is quite good,' as if we'd impugned the content it was based upon. We hadn't. We simply saw that If Hulu ever turned out to be anything, Fox or Disney or NBC would want it for themselves. And if they couldn't have it, they would have to takes its toys away, in the form of removing content, and that's precisely what has happened.

We find ourselves in a time when broadcasters need an OTT champion, but they have it as much in Netflix as with their home grown OTT services - Netflix now, peculiarly, shows more TV than Hulu. In response the three broadcasters can choose to either keep content for their own OTT catch up services, give it to as many sources as possible on identical terms, or they could have tried to drive it all through Hulu. They are no good at the former, they have closed off the latter, so it only leaves the middle alternative - acting as disinterested brokers in doling out content for online delivery.

Comcast, who owns NBC has its Xfinity OTT service to protect its pay TV customers as well as Streampix, the paid VoD verson, so why would it offer its content to Hulu? Disney has its close relationship with Apple and a new strong relationship with Netflix and its own ABC site to work on, so why give special privileges to Hulu? Fox needs an OTT offering and might actually end up owning the bulk of Hulu once it fails, which will inevitably happen.

But we must consider where Kilar and his CTO will next turn up and what they might put their hands to. If content is licensable freely for OTT delivery from broadcasters and cable networks alike, then that's where Kilar will end up, and he may well control something with more promise, and less internal conflict than Hulu, and that may well be a success. Look out for it.

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