Hulu Gets Ripped Out Of Rippol

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We’ve seen in the past year that Hulu gets testy about their video content being used on other sites or platforms, with Boxee and TV.com both forced to remove Hulu content from their sites and applications. Now startup Rippol is facing the same fate.

Rippol just publicly launched their video discovery sites at yesterday’s Real-Time CrunchUp, which combines both complex algorithms with user suggestions to surface interesting video content.

Less than a few hours after Rippol launched, the startup’s co-founder Aaron Crayford received notice from Hulu that the video embeds on Rippol from Hulu were in violation of the terms of service which state that embeds are for personal, non-commercial use only. While Rippol says that they won’t place ads in the videos or around the videos, Hulu says that the simple fact that Rippol plans to make money from the entire content service violates the TOS. Instead, Hulu offered Rippol the ability to us its site map, which is a feed that links back to Hulu for video playback. Don’t embed, says Hulu. Link instead. Here’s the email notice:

We saw that you launched today. We want to notify you that you are using our embeds in violation of our terms of service which state specifically that embeds are for personal, non-commercial use only. As such we will plan to block embedding from your site by 12/4. Typically we disable embedding immediately but given that you just launched, we want to give you some time to transition.

In the place of the embeds, we can offer you is a site map feed that links back to Hulu for video playback and includes several useful pieces of metadata in a feed. It includes video titles, descriptions, thumbnails, video type, duration info, season number, episode number, air date, expiration date, in addition to the video link on Hulu.com.

It is updated every few hours: http://www.hulu.com/video_sitemap.index.xml

When Rippol responded that they will never put ads in or around Hulu content, Hulu responded:

Ad placement would be more relevant to the “non-commercial” part of the TOS vs. the “personal” part. While you may not plan to place ads near our content, Rippol is a commercial business in the sense that you plan to make money from the content service you create. Thus our content on your site is being used for commercial purposes, even if it is indirect (i.e. you attract users with Hulu content but only monetize other content).

Note we are not singling out Rippol as we have transitioned other premium video aggregators to our site map feed.

Rippol looks at your video watching activity on the site, as well as that of your friends and people in your demographic. It also looks at meta data from video content ingested from sites like YouTube and Hulu, and uses machine learning to identify videos it thinks you’ll like. Naturally, some of the TV shows and movies that surface on Rippol are from Hulu.

Boxee encountered a similar issue in February. Boxee’s software package converts computers, Apple TVs and other popular products into media centers, and integrated Hulu content. But this ended abruptly in February when Hulu’s studio content partners demanded that Boxee take down all videos pulled from from Hulu. TV.com suffered a similar fate when Hulu pulled the plug on content earlier this year, although CBS Interactive, which owns TV.com, vehemently argued that they were within their rights to stream Hulu content.

The thing is that Rippol, and perhaps other video sites like Boxee, may be willing to enter into a distribution agreement with Hulu with regard to embedding content. In Hulu’s note to Rippol, the representative stated that “the only way for a company to legitimately embed our videos the way you do is to enter into a structured distribution relationship with us. However, we are currently entering into these very selectively.”

When Hulu axed the Boxee integration, CEO Jason Kilar wrote in a blog post:

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.

Our mission to make media dramatically easier and more user-focused has not changed and will not change. We will not stop until we achieve it and we are sober in our assessment that we have such a long way to go.

The maddening part of writing this blog entry is that we realize that there is no immediate win here for users. Please know that we take very seriously our role of representing users such that we are able to provide more and more content in more and more ways over time. We embrace this activity in ways that respect content owners’ — and even the entire industry’s — challenges to create great content that users love. Yes, it’s a complex matter. A tough mission, and a never-ending one, but one we are passionately committed to.

Even before Hulu launched the site had announced partnerships to embed content with AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo. The site also has a partnership with Comcast’s Fancast . And the site also recently launched the ability to watch some video content its video content on its Facebook page.

It’s clear the Hulu is at the mercy of of studio content owners who are calling the shots on partnerships and who should be allowed to embed Hulu content. Kilar is correct in saying that Hulu’s strategy of limited partnerships is not a win for users. But the other party left out here are the developers and startups, like Rippol and Boxee, which are crating innovative and useful products that provide a creative way to watch their videos and even drive traffic to Hulu.

When Hulu was announced in 2007, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said that Hulu would aim to have “ubiquitous distribution.” The press release issued at the time said that Hulu “will actively seek agreements with a variety of additional distribution partners.” The release also stated that each “distribution partner will feature the site’s content in an embedded player customized with a look and feel consistent with each site, making the offering organic to each destination.”

Clearly, when Hulu was announced, the ambitions were to have many more partnerships to distribute the site’s content. But all signs have pointed to the fact that Hulu and its content partners are simply not open to startups and smaller sites who have new innovations to video consumption. Frankly, it’s disappointing for the developer community as well as consumers.

In the meantime, Rippol’s Crayford says that most of Hulu’s content is available on the content owners sites, which means Rippol will point crawlers to a lot of different domains instead of Hulu, which is tedious (TV.com does this).

When we asked Hulu about the Rippol situation, they responded:

Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been told our folks are in communication with Rippol on how to possibly work together.

The basic policy on our embeds is that we do not allow sites to host the entire Hulu content library without a formal distribution agreement. These agreements are evaluated on a case by case basis with the involvement of content owners. Alternatively, we provide a video site map to allow publishers to link to our videos.

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