Downloadable content has been the defining mark of this generation. Certainly, HD resolution, surround sound, and wireless controllers (at last) as the standard have been vast improvements between the current lineup of consoles and those we enjoyed at the turn of the century. Yet it’s the incredible latitude that downloadable content adds that has been the biggest improvement of this generation. Sure, DLC existed to some level last generation, especially on the original Xbox, and has been around in the PC environment forever. It isn’t just the game content that spotlights DLC’s new importance, however; the video content has been a small but important part of the development of the console as a convergence device.
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both offer downloadable movies, TV shows, music videos and exclusive video content. The Wii, on the other hand, has been sorely lacking in this field. Downloadable video is not really a boon to Sony or Microsoft’s bottom lines, so it’s not like Nintendo is missing out on some vast pile of newly minted money. It is, however, a way that the Xbox 360 and PS3 further assert themselves as the dominant component in the living room. The Wii, as yet limited to a small number of information channels offering news, weather and a basic web browser, is without a doubt a gaming unit with a few nice afterthoughts.
Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 currently offer video download services
Yet Nintendo has an opportunity to strike at the heart of their competitions’ prized multimedia strategies, please their fans and possibly make some money all at the same time. NBCUniversal and News Corporation (parent company of the Fox brand of networks and an incredible breadth of other content) recently entered into a joint venture operation to launch a new web-based video site called Hulu. Derided at the time of its announcement as another sign that traditional media was out of touch with the Internet, Hulu actually evolved into a very attractive, easy-to-use outlet for high-quality streaming versions of many favorite TV shows and even a small number of feature-length movies. All of this is offered for free, supported usually by just two short video advertisements, one at the beginning of a show and one at its midpoint. The flash-based video is superior to that offered by YouTube, and, for those willing to watch video on their computer screens, could be highly competitive with Apple’s paid download model (and “grayer” avenues).
Just some of the channels available on the Hulu portal
Hulu does not currently work with the Wii, but a deal should be made between Hulu’s content providers and Nintendo as soon as possible. The ability to access the video content on a TV, something the Wii offers, would be a great boon to Hulu as it fights for mind and marketshare against legal and illegal alternatives. Its standard-definition video quality fits perfectly with what the Wii is capable of displaying, and the basic network architecture necessary to achieve compatibility is already in place through the Wii’s Opera web browser. All that must be done is to make the Wii’s Flash codec compatible with Hulu’s video offerings.
An alliance between Hulu and the Wii would be good news for everyone… except Sony and Microsoft
It appears that this issue may be as much Adobe’s fault as anyone’s, as they have not made the latest version of their Flash codec available to integrated browsers like the one used on the Wii. Two options exist: the first would be to make a deal with Adobe that results in an up-to-date codec for the Wii. The other would be for Hulu to offer its videos on the older standard after ensuring that the request is coming from a Wii console. The reason Hulu uses the newest version of Flash is because of digital rights management and country-specific options that the content providers have insisted on implementing. Offering the videos on the Wii just means that Hulu would leave the back door open while guarding the front door more closely: offer the channel download only to US Wii owners and build an identifying mark into the browser that makes it clear that it is in fact a Wii trying to stream these unprotected videos.
Taking it a step further, it would behoove both sides to design a special Hulu channel for the Wii where users could peruse video and take advantage of the site’s rating systems. Although the complicated nature of the Friend Code system makes it difficult, a social networking aspect could also be included, where Wii users could see what their friends had recently watched.
Integrating Hulu with the Wii is one of those simple little things that could have broad-reaching implications. It would simultaneously give Nintendo an entry point to video content on the Wii, point out again the Xbox 360’s lack of a web browser, help promote a legal streaming alternative for many top TV shows, interfere with Sony’s branding of the PS3 as the foremost media console and provide revenue for everyone involved. Wii owners suddenly gain a valuable new feature and even more non-gamers that have yet to join the Wii bandwagon might see the opportunity to stream their favorite TV shows to their TV instead of to their computer as reason enough to finally take the plunge. Nintendo, News Corp, and NBCU: get it done.