NEW YORK Hulu, the online video joint venture of News Corp and General Electric's NBC Universal, will make its public debut on Wednesday with programming from Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros Television Group, Lionsgate and from sports leagues.
Missing from the list of providers are media mogul Sumner Redstone-controlled companies Viacom Inc, which continues to hold discussions, Viacom said recently, and CBS Corp, which has said it was not averse to a licensing deal.
At launch, Hulu will offer full-length episodes of more than 250 TV series from current hits such as "The Simpsons" as well as older shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It also will offer 100 movies including "The Big Lebowski" and "Mulholland Drive."
Hulu said it has signed licensing deals with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.
Hulu's launch is a big bet by big media companies that consumers are as eager to spend long periods of time watching TV shows and movies in front of their computers as they are in front of their televisions.
Ahead of its test launch four months ago, the service, dubbed by the press as a rival to Google Inc's YouTube video sharing site, was skewered by the press and influential technology blogs for attempting to compete with the Web's most popular video destination.
Hulu has won over some of its harshest critics including technology blog, Techcrunch, which has since praised the venture for focus on professional content, clean, easy-to-use design, and video quality. Its readers voted it as the best video start-up of 2007.
With no marketing and a private test pool of users, Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar said they have attracted over five million viewers in the past month with its breadth of legally available contemporary shows and clean design.
Some 80 percent of its entire video library is viewed every seven days, a sign likely to be viewed favorably by programming partners seeking ways to boost profits from vintage shows, Kilar said.
Shows on Hulu also are distributed on AOL, Comcast Corp's Fancast.com, Microsoft Corp's MSN, News Corp's MySpace and Yahoo Inc.
AD FORMATS IMPRESS
Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said he was most impressed, not with its features, but with its range of options for advertisers. "It's the part people overlook," he said.
Among the range of new advertising options, Hulu said that Nissan, for example, can give Hulu viewers the option to choose to watch any one of its several car ads.
Advertisers spend "billions of dollars getting the right ad in front of the right person," McQuivey said of marketing to traditional television viewers. Hulu's online advertising permits "self-selected targeting."
McQuivey added, "From the advertisers perspective, it can't get any better."
Hulu said most of the companies which signed up for the test also are a part of the official launch, including Nissan, Best Buy Co Inc, and Unilever PLC.
Hulu is available at www.hulu.com/ starting Wednesday.
(Reporting by Kenneth Li; editing by Carol Bishopric)