One of these days, TV and movies have resisted giving their customers what they increasingly have made clear they want: content where they want it, when they want it, and on the device of their choice. The latest front in this long twilight struggle opened Monday when Hulu, the leading Web site for full-length TV shows, blocked yet another attempt to make it easy to get Hulu content onto television screens.
Hulu, which is owned primarily by NBC Universal, Disney*, and News Corp., has been in a very public fight with Boxee, an application, soon a set top box, that serves as an aggregator of and program guide to video content, barring Boxee’s custom browser from loading the Hulu site. Monday, added Kylo, a new browser from Hillcrest Labs, to the banned list.
Kylo is a new browser, built on the Mozilla engine used by Firefox, is a browser specifically deigned to work well on a TV display. Kylo is intended for use with Hillcrest’s Loop Pointer, an accelerometer-based “mouse” that you use by pointing it at the screen. You install Kylo on a PC connected to a TV display and use a Loop to control it. Kylo addresses the problems of working with conventional browsers on a TV: The user interface is designed to work well from across the room. There’s an easy way to scroll in so that small type becomes readable form feet away. There’s an on-screen qwerty keyboard and built-in compensation for overscan, a feature of TV design that causes the edges of a window designed for a computer to fall off the edges of the TV screen.
Hulu, of course, is natural content for Kylo and Hillcrest CEO Daniel S. Simkins was all set to demonstrate Hulu on Kylo at the DEMOspring conference in Palm Desert, CA. But on Monday morning, Hulu suddenly stopped working on Kylo/ Some frantic conversations between Hillcrest executives and Hulu confirmed the bad news: The browser was being blocked from the site.
TV studios get a large part of their revenues from the fees cable and satellite companies pay to transmit their content, so they are reluctant to anger powerful customers by making content available through alternate channels. This situation is not likely to get better if the proposed merger of NBCU and Comcast goes through. The bottom line is that studios are increasingly comfortable with making their content available on the Internet, but only as long as it stays on PCs or mobile devices. But they will do everything they can to block easy ways of getting that same content onto TV screens, where it competes directly with cable or satellite service.
Caught in the middle are companies like Hillcrest and, of course, consumers. Eventually, consumers will win, but victory is likely to be a long time in coming.
*–Corrected to add Disney as an owner of Hulu.