HULU's Big Dream Could Be Television's Nightmare

I'm told by people at HULU that they're watching the show's performance like Simon Cowell watches a struggling American Idol contestant, ready to swoop down and seize their opportunity. The show's fate could determine how HULU proceeds with its offerings.

Right now? They're cautious about original programming. As they should be. Shows that first launch on the Internet or air there exclusively have met limited success. Celebrity vehicles excluded. They tend to do well, but that's because of the celebrities. Duh.

Don't be shocked if If I Can Dream succeeds in spite of it's lack of celebrities and originality. If you can imagine The Truman Show getting into a knife fight with American Idol and Big Brother, If I Can Dream would be the conflict's result.

I was not told what the threshold for success would be by HULU, but Robert Seidman of TV By The Numbers, was kind enough to fill me in. "What would make it a hit on TV would depend on what network it is on, but in general it would need to average about 4 million adults 18-49 for the duration of the show to be considered a success in terms of broadcast network ratings (or about a 3.0 rating with adults 18-49). The benchmark for success is much lower on cable."

We can only speculate since HULU doesn't share this sort of information, but I imagine they need to meet or exceed the threshold of a 3 rating to pursue more original programming with their current business model. WWE Raw, usually one of the top-rated cable programs, hangs between a 3 and a 4 depending on how good the action is, and way less than that whenever HHH is on screen. If If I Can Dream can meet a 3 rating, the advertisers will be happy, and until HULU starts charging for access, which they should, the number of viewers is the only metric that matters here.

If the show should hit that magic viewership number, you might see something awful and awesome happen.

Awful: People developing television shows who have the ability could skip the networks and cable channels, which is good for the talent and production companies, but bad for viewers. If production companies bypass them, it'll drive up the prices for these shows meaning less quality programming on the air. Remember, like anything else, television is a business, and the channels can only afford to pick up so many programs. This means you would have to enjoy these new shows online with commercials you can't skip and buffering. And there are few things more awful on the web than buffering.

Awesome: Usually when a show gets cancelled and there's a campaign to save it, the campaign doesn't go anywhere because the network doesn't want to cooperate. The Middle Man for example is a great cable show that deserved another season, but ABC Family decided instead to use its funds to unleash the television equivalent of cyanide with The Secret Life Of The American Teenager. Now fans of recently cancelled and long deceased shows (assuming the cast members still walk among the living) could convince HULU to resurrect their favorite programs. HULU wants viewers, so does their advertisers, and a loyal audience would be willing to pay to keep their show alive and have a place to watch it. Everyone wins. Especially the cancelled cable shows because they can probably match their television viewership online better than a network show.

These are rampant assumptions on my part, but I don't doubt either will occur soon. If not now, then over the next several years. Especially when the government gets around to implementing their national broadband initiative and HULU can be accessed around the world, including your precious iPhone. Or iPad. Or by the time this happens, an iFace. Why should you have to carry things in the future?