Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Nov. 17, 2008, 2:36 p.m.

What Hulu can teach the news business about differentiation

Here’s an interesting report from a speech by Jason Kilar, the CEO of online video hub Hulu.

Hulu, for those who aren’t familiar, is a joint NBC-Fox project to create a place where the traditional creators of video entertainment — the networks — could present their wares online and sell ads against them. When it launched earlier this year, it was taunted mercilessly by those who thought it would be impossible for the stuffy ol’ networks to compete in online video with the new power, YouTube. But Hulu has been a surprising success; because YouTube can currently sell ads against only about three percent of its videos (versus essentially all of Hulu’s), there are estimates that Hulu might already be generating U.S. revenue numbers comparable to YouTube’s.

(It doesn’t take a big leap to see why Hulu would be a model of interest to the newspaper business. It’s the story they want to tell: old-media businesses figure out a way to cut through the undifferentiated sea of “content” and make money presenting the kind of high-production-value work they’re uniquely able to make. Kilar calls Hulu “the world’s premium content,” and there are newspaper execs who use similar terms to say how their content will be differentiated from the rest of the Internet to advertisers.)

Two keys to their success, according to Kilar: Obsess over the details: Every pixel of the site’s design conspires to tell the user how her needs rank among the site’s priorities. And listen to your users. Give them choice; give them a voice in affecting the site’s content; respond to their concerns quickly and thank them for the exchange.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Nov. 17, 2008, 2:36 p.m.
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