Hulu does Hoops and hockey as NBA, NHL provide clips and games for online service

By Carl Lindemann

Hulu, the joint venture owned by NBC Universal and News Corp founded last March, will also offer clips and even full games from two of the nation’s biggest leagues: the NBA and the NHL. “Hulu fits in neatly with our strategy of connecting with fans on a number of platforms including the Web and mobile ones,” says Attila Gazdag the NBA’s SVP for Global Media Distribution. “We wish to offer our content broadly, but do so on a selective basis. Hulu has positioned itself as a premier destination for consumers, and this audience will be able to sample the best of NBA programming.”

Hulu isn’t just any online advertising-supported start-up. Aside from the pair of blue-chip media companies behind it a $100 million investment from private equity firm Providence Equity Partners makes this a contender with legs. This week’s launch follows 18 weeks of private beta testing begun last October.

Hulu.com has been in private beta since October 2007. In the past month, over five million viewers have watched videos through Hulu.com or its distribution network including partner sites AOL, Comcast’s Fancast.com, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo. Content has also been distributed virally. During the beta, more than 50,000 Hulu video players have been embedded on nearly 6,000 sites across the Web.

“Our experience with Hulu is that they have been real pros across the board from day one,” says Troy Ewanchyna, NHL Director Business Development. “A lot of these deals are hot and cold, and everyone’s been holding their breath to see how real this is, and how quickly they could pull it off.”

Ewanchyna says the NHL got really excited during the beta test over the past few months looking at it from the NHL fans – and potential fans – experience. For Ewanchyna, part of the sizzle was discovering a shared marketing mindset. The idea is to provide new ways to feed the core audience and to attract newcomers to the game.

“They’re not just saying that they want to throw our content out there. They put a lot of marketing strategy behind this, seeing what would be enticing for our fans,” adds Ewanchyna.

Of course, the make-or-break is consumer acceptance. Hulu.com streams high quality videos (and some HD quality, too) in a variety of ways to create the viewing experience that the end-user wishes. This includes full-screen view, a pop-out window, and what’s called a ‘lower lights’ feature.

Additional tools take streaming beyond a passive video jukebox. Visitors can clip, share and embed videos on other Web sites to feed the need on blogs and social networking sites. And search tools help users find legal, premium video online even if it is not directly available on Hulu.com.

Will Hulu be a hit for hoops and hockey fans?

“The Hulu user interface and experience makes this a standout,” says Gazdag.