Hulu Showcases Downloadable Hulu Desktop Application and Other Beta Apps in New "Hulu Labs" Area

--boxee CEO, Avner Ronen, Asks Hulu to Remove "Misleading Message" from the Desktop App

In a posting on its corporate blog, Thursday, Hulu, the broadband video venture co-owned by NBC, Fox, and ABC/Disney (note: for more on Disney's recent acquisition of an equity stake in the venture, see the article posted on April 30th), announced the launch of a new "Hulu Labs" area on its Web site, which it says will provide "sneak peeks" at upcoming releases from its product roadmap, "some of which are personal projects and hobbies our devs have been cooking up." Beta products showcased on the site at launch include Recommendations (billed as "a list of TV shows and movies that we think you'll love based on videos you've already watched and rated on Hulu"), Time-Based Browsing ("allows you to quickly scan our videos grouped by original air date"), and Video Panel Designer ("helps site editors and Web masters customize and program Video Panels to fit their needs"--for more on Hulu's recently launched Video Panel widgets, see the article posted on, May 14th).

However, "headlining" the Hulu Labs launch, to use Hulu's term, is a new downloadable beta application called Hulu Desktop, that generated a fair amount of buzz--and some controversy--Thursday. Hulu bills the app as allowing users to "find and enjoy your favorite Hulu videos in a rich, full-screen computer window that you can control with your mouse and keyboard or any six-button PC or Mac remote control" and as giving users "the option to step outside of their browser, keyboard and mouse and into something different." According to the company, the app was "built by a small group on our engineering team (two devs, one designer, one product manager) who asked themselves one day: how can we make it easier for users to immerse themselves in the great shows and movies Hulu is fortunate to have access to."

Until now, Hulu's service has been available only through the browser and has thus been restricted to providing a "lean-forward" TV viewing experience; the availability of a standalone Hulu app, which can run on a media center-equipped computer and be controlled via a remote control, means that the service can now offer a more traditional and desirable "lean-back" TV viewing experience--though the terms of use for the new app officially prohibit it from being used on a viewer's living-room television set (or "on any device other than a Personal Computer," for that matter). Over-the-top-TV specialist, boxee, was actually the first to enable a lean-back Hulu experience, and was subsequently technologically blocked from doing so by Hulu, which said that the move had been requested by its "content owners": the companies--which have since engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of blocking and workarounds (which side is currently winning the game can be tracked on a dedicated Twitter feed from boxee: @ishuluonboxee)--are now generally perceived as having a contentious relationship. In a posting on his corporate blog, Thursday, boxee founder and CEO, Avner Ronen, said that the company was "glad to see Hulu had a change of heart about bringing their service to the big screen, and we hope that this means Hulu content is coming back to boxee. We've already put in a request to Hulu to work with them on bringing Hulu back to boxee, and we'll let you know the response," Ronen added. Ronen then went on to request that Hulu remove a "misleading message that you pop up to boxee users." The message, which appears in a dialog box to users of the new app, reads: "You appear to be running Boxee [sic], which has been known to cause problems with the Apple remote hardware. You may want to close this program if you are having trouble using your remote." "boxee does not cause problems with the Apple Remote hardware," Ronen wrote. "There is a setting in boxee (under Settings->System->Apple Remote) that lets the users decide whether they'd like boxee to always respond to the remote (so they can press the Menu button to launch it)."

North America