Hulu's long tail of old TV shows and movies — something for everyone

Most people know Hulu as the site where they can go to (legally) watch currently popular television shows like Family Guy, The Office, 30 Rock and movies like Ice Age.

But the Hulu library of TV shows and movies is far richer than modern-day hits, and users are loving it all. On any given week, more than 80 percent of videos in the library are viewed, the company says.

Hulu only left its private beta this past Wednesday, so I’m interested to see how growth on its “long tail” of older shows and movies plays out on the web. Hulu videos can be embedded on other sites — more than 50,000 were during the private beta — and it partners with video-sharing sites like Veoh for additional distribution.

These shows are, by this point in history, an important part of America’s cultural heritage. Sample TV titles include 80′s detective show Remington Steele, the 70′s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 60′s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show (below), and one of my personal favorits, 90′s sketch comedy show In Living Color (see this classic scene featuring “Homey the Clown”).

http://www.hulu.com/embed/SSdQhdPBin0nt57xxcBc6A


Older shows like Arrested Development, Doogie Howser, M.D. and Airwolf are regular favorites among Hulu users, the company says. Some of these shows, like Arrested Development, weren’t even popular enough in their prime to make it past a few seasons.

And, older movies that have caught on with the Hulu audience include 1986 sci-fi flick Planet of the Apes, 1993 semi-fictional biography Dragon – The Bruce Lee Story and perhaps one of the most brilliant movies of all time, post-film noir comedy The Big Lebowski (I can hardly believe I’m able to embed the entire feature length movie at the bottom of this article, but there it is).

Many of these shows and movies have never been seen before on the web (again, at least not legally). Old fans are rediscovering them while new fans — many of whom weren’t born when the shows first aired, are falling for them, for the first time.

This “long tail” of Hulu is most certainly part of the Hulu game plan (Note: Although the phrase itself has become a cliche, this is a pretty good case for using it). Just take a look at who’s the chief executive of Hulu: Jason Kilar, a former executive at Amazon.com, a company that showed that the long tail could be wildly profitable through serving each niche of book lovers. Kilar was most recently Amazon’s senior vice president of Worldwide Application Software, and before that, the vice president and general manager of Amazon’s North American media business — in fact, he led its entry into the video and DVD selling business.

But Hulu is all about online distribution, as Kilar makes clear, and just getting these shows spread out widely across the web will create a plethora of new opportunities for advertising and other ways of making money (more on that here).

It’s also easy to imagine broader cultural significance, like a resurgence of fan sites around these older shows on Hulu. Stay tuned.

http://www.hulu.com/embed/f684bnleVirMsE2yp6dFvg


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