Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tune in... tune out... tune it up?

The other day I fired up my Apple TV, and BAM! (just like that, seriously my imagination made some serious noise) there was a new button waiting for me to press it. That button had the nice familiar title of Hulu Plus. I've seen Hulu Plus before, but it had been a while, and so I decided to use this new and strange development to re-educate myself on what Hulu Plus has to offer.

Upon first entering the Hulu Plus homepage on my computer I was greeted with a very attrative graphic of a TV showing all of the many shows I could be watching right now if I was only using Hulu Plus. I was starting to feel like I was missing something. Then right below this link was a big green button offering me a free week! A free week!!! I'd be a fool NOT to take advantage of that!! But wait.... can't I first take a look and see if there's anything I'd even want to watch? Sure enough in small... er... small print was a link to a listing of all the wonderful content that was awaiting my account information. So I said to myself... "Self! Don't give them all your personal information which you know that they'll use to just rope you in to an additional month because you'll stupidly get busy and forget to cancel the subscription!" And then I proceeded to look through the listing of what they had to offer.

First, the list was terribly unfriendly from a user experience perspective. It was hard to navigate and resulted in scrolling through page after page of small pics of available content as you look for a diamond in the rough. Second, I think Hulu thinks I'm Japanese. As I'm browsing through the list I saw so many Japanese shows that at first I assumed I had clicked on some regional link that sent me over to their Asian site. But after double (and triple) checking that I was on the US site, I realized... holy crap there's a lot of Japanese programming on Hulu. So needless to say... I didn't sign up for a 1 week trial. There just wasn't enough there to pique my interest and get me to even think about spending a monthly fee. Especially since all the cool content on the main Hulu site (no +) isn't available in Hulu Plus. If I can't get a whole season of Simpsons... what's the point?

So after my near-death-bordem experience with Hulu Plus, I started to think about what exactly I was looking for in a site like Hulu Plus. In other words, what am I expecting from my online media experience? In a couple of words? Choice and comprehensiveness. What I want from an online media site is the ability to choose the content I want, when I want it, and have the option to watch it without having to buy it.

Currently, my online media tools of choice are Netflix and iTunes. I use Netflix to watch old series of shows that I'd never shell out big bucks for, but don't want to time my life around syndication. I then use iTunes for the new stuff, namely their Season Pass product which allows me to get copies of shows the day after they air. Both methods have their downsides. First, Netflix has a vast array of content, but much of it is old, and new content takes forever to show up on their system. Additionally, there are deals in place with the media studios that force Netflix to remove content from their sytem after a certain number of views. So you could see something available to watch one day, but then come back the next day and it's no longer around. Then show up a third day, and boom, it's back to being watchable again. That kind of inconsistancy is frustrating and not the way I want to watch my entertainment.

iTunes is a nice option for getting new content, but it has one fatal flaw. Everything I want to watch off of iTunes... I own. That means that if I want to watch it I need to download it to my hard drive and watch it from there, and no matter how many times I delete it, it's still sitting out in my queue for me to download again if I ever get a hankering to watch it again (which I probably won't). Rentals are great for movies, but for TV series, I'm not sure I really like owning every single season of a show, just because I don't want to spend time getting a TiVO to tape it when it's on live so I can watch it later.

So what would be my ideal solution? Take all the big players right now, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu and yes, even Hulu Plus, and mush them all together in to one super solution. Give me the ability to subscribe to a service that gives me a la carte access to just what I want to see, when I want to see it. You might say, "Why don't you just get cable with a DVR?" That's a fair question, but frankly, cable is so bloated with crap that I have no interest in, that the overblown cost just isn't justifiable. I have no interest in paying $60/month to support 148 channels of garbage, just to get access to the 2 channels that I might have some interest in.

So this is another area of our culture where I think technology is changing the way we view things. For so long we've been caught up in a model where we were handed our entertainment, and we had little choice in what we watched. Now, we've come to an era where we have the technology to give us ultimate choice and flexibility in what we want. Some people might claim that we're spoiled brats, and we just want it our way all the time. But, again I go back to my argument from previous posts, that just because technology allows us to change our lifestyle, doesn't mean it's inherently evil, or making us in to evil persons.

Sometimes the reality of life changes, and learning to adapt to that new reality can be challenging sometimes. It means that we now have the opportunity to exercise freedom from entities like movie studios and record companies that TELL us what we should be watching and listening to, and when. We now have the opportunity, as a species, to allow creativity to be spread and grown on it's own merits, to those that find it appealing. So where others might see an opprotunity to be selfish, I see an opportunity to discover more of humanity's creativity. So maybe I should embrace the Japanese TV that's waiting for me to explore it? Or maybe I should indulge in a bit more Spotify and Pandora to discover music I've never heard before? All I know for certain is that we're alive in a great time, when we can embrace the diversity that's available to us. Even if it's not quite perfect yet, let's not fear the future, but encourge growth to a cool tomorrow.