US video-content provider Hulu.com used to be seen as a beacon of sense in the fickle world of online video.
Forgetting the fact that it's only available in the US (shakes fist!) the website seemed to have everything sorted: from video hosting to video syndication.
Unfortunately that has all changed with the announcement that Hulu.com has started to pull content from rival sites TV.com and Boxee.
The change of heart seems to have something to do with the companies that own the rival websites. TV.com was recently acquired by CBS; Hulu.com is a joint venture between News Corp (the owners of Fox et al) and NBC Universal.
Although Hulu.com is not commenting on its decision to stop content – other than muttering something about "contractual rights" – analysts are pointing to the fact that CBS was one of the broadcasters originally not willing to allow its content on Hulu.com. It seems that the owners of Hulu has got its own back.
Unfortunately this means that instead of having one online provider of major TV shows on the web, we now have a multitude – a problem the UK knows only too well with the recent blocking of Project Kangaroo.
Pleading the case
Boxee is slightly different. The ingenious website that upscales online video for viewing on big-screen TVs never actually had a contract with Hulu in the first place. It was requested by the content provider to remove any videos associated with Hulu.com, and Boxee has agreed.
In a blog post, the makers of the site said: "We love Hulu. They have built a great product and brand… people love watching many of their favourite shows on Hulu via boxee. Last week we generated more than 100,000 streams for them…
"Two weeks ago Hulu called and told us their content partners were asking them to remove Hulu from boxee. We tried (many times) to plead the case for keeping Hulu on boxee, but on Friday of this week, in good faith, we will be removing it."
Brave new world
Hulu explained to the site that the reason the content had to be removed was because: "Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes.
"While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence — bumps and all — we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand in hand with content owners.
"Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites."
Hulu's allusion to the 'brave new world of media convergence' is a worrying one, considering Aldous Huxley's 'perfect' vision ended extremely badly.
Online video may well go the same way unless broadcasters can start agreeing on terms once and for all.