LAS VEGAS--Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was trying to make a point about why Hulu is Hollywood's best option against online piracy. But he needed something to illustrate copyright violations.
That was when YouTube appeared.
During a presentation Wednesday at the National Association of Broadcasters 2008 conference, Kilar stood in front of an image of a YouTube Web page that featured a clip from the TV show Felicity. Kilar told the audience, "the only way to get (Felicity) is from unauthorized sources."
He noted that at Hulu, TV and film companies could promote their content online using high-quality video and enable fans to share it legally. The message was unmistakable: Hulu is a better place for content owners to post videos than YouTube.
It wasn't that long ago that executives from both companies downplayed any rivalry. They said that Hulu focused on long-form, professionally made content, and YouTube, acquired by Google in 2006, was built on short, user-generated clips. That fantasy is obviously being dropped, at least by Hulu.
Anybody operating an online video destination competes with YouTube. The site casts an enormous shadow as people go there for entertainment, news, political discourse, you name it. Most importantly, few other video sites have acquired audiences large enough to attract big advertisers.
Naturally, Hulu must endeavor to cut into some of YouTube's market share if it hopes to one day acquire a big audience of its own.
But this is what Hulu is up against: ComScore estimates that one-third of the estimated 10 billion views of online video in February were at YouTube. And YouTube denies that Hulu owns any advantage at helping content owners cash in on their content.
"We're happy to partner with any and all content creators to do with their content as they wish; monetize it, track it, or pull it off the site," Ricardo Reyes, a YouTube spokesman told the Associated Press.
NBC Universal, which jointly owns Hulu with News Corp., has also taken up the fight and has been playing up the differences between Hulu and YouTube.
Last week, Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal, said that Hulu had sold out of its ad inventory only a month after opening to the public. He then took a thinly veiled dig at YouTube.
"Advertisers want to be on something where you know what you get," Zucker said, "and not on something where you could be advertising (next to a video of) a cat on a skateboard."
At NAB, Kilar told the audience, with the YouTube Web page still behind him, that unauthorized copyright clips posted to the Web didn't make content owners money. Hulu, on the other hand, offered video producers a way to monetize their video content while still enabling them to share it.
Like YouTube, Hulu users can embed their video player anywhere on the Internet. Hulu videos have been embedded more than 100,000 times on more than 12,000 Web sites, Killar said.
The start-up also has deals with 50 content partners, including, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros., and Lionsgate. Kilar said that Hulu continues to try to convince ABC, Viacom, and CBS to join as well.
Hulu is barely getting off the ground, but NBC and News Corp. have the kind of financial muscle--as well as lots of content--to one day build this YouTube-Hulu contest into a battle royale.