2019 CES: Could Hulu be listening?

Here at the 2019 CES show, you usually find new “stuff.” I mean, physical stuff. Stuff you can touch. At least that’s been the pattern for decades. Yet, if you think about it, we’ve moved into the “post-stuff” era. We use one device as a phone, as a camera, for contact management, web browsing, shopping, and keeping in touch with friends. When that device can do something new, it’s important. When our digital lives change, it’s as important as when our “real” lives do.

A short history of how I hate Hulu

Hulu was actually announced at the CES show in 2008, as I said here. At the time it was a free, computer-based way to stream old TV shows. Keep in mind in those days smartphones were in their infancy and being able to stream video to a phone was practically impossible because of slow download speeds.

I wasn’t incredibly impressed by Hulu back then, but they did give me a free flash drive (that I still have) and the service didn’t cost anything. That’s why I said in 2009 that I would never, ever pay for it. Sadly, the internet won’t let me forget that quote.

My simmering attitude of denigration toward Hulu continued without a lot of commentary until 2017, when the service rolled out their new user interface. I railed on them for creating a service where you couldn’t actually find anything. Even a quick update to fix the most offensive parts didn’t do much.

And yet, I have to admit that Hulu is still out there and probably stronger than ever. They do a good job of getting some recent movies, and their original series have been pretty good as well. They’re probably worth the price, especially compared to CBS All Access. That service, as I’ve said before, has done nothing but take advantage of Star Trek fans with an offer of literally $1 per minute of Trek for the last three months.

And now, the news

According to TechCrunch, Hulu is testing a number of changes to the user experience that could include essentially dropping the home screen. I never use the home screen as it does nothing but suggest content I don’t want. I don’t know who wrote Hulu’s recommendations engine but it does an incredibly poor job of suggesting content I might like. In contrast, Prime Video seems to literally read my mind — several times it’s recommended shows I’m sure I’ve never mentioned except in errant discussions in my own mind. So, good recommendations are possible. Hulu just doesn’t do them.

They’re also looking at other meaningful tweaks. This seems to include an option to mark episodes as watched or unwatched. I suppose that’s good for spouses who are secretly several episodes ahead on a shared favorite show.

Once again, it’s a step in the right direction…

…but is it enough? It probably is. I don’t see a lot of internet chatter about how Hulu’s UI is “the worst ever.” Maybe I’m the only one who thinks so. Maybe everyone else uses Hulu in some weird way that I don’t. Maybe they love pressing the Menu button a zillion times. I don’t know what it is. What I do know is I’ve been whining about Hulu for a decade now. I’m still a lowly blogger and Hulu is a multizillion dollar company. So maybe they know something I don’t. On the other hand… maybe they could actually rule the world, if people could just find the stuff they wanted. Who knows?