TV promos pay off for Hulu

Super Bowl ads boost online video biz

Spending big bucks on a Super Bowl spot has paid off for Hulu.

The NBC Universal-News Corp. joint venture shot up the online charts to rank No. 2 behind YouTube among online vid providers for February, according to the latest numbers from Nielsen Online. The February growth spurt coincided with Hulu’s first major consumer marketing push, which kicked off with the debut on the Feb. 1 Super Bowl telecast of the much-buzzed-about spot featuring “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin.

Hulu, which marked the one-year anniversary of its public launch Thursday, grew 33% from January to 309 million streams of full-length TV segs, movies, clips and sundry made-for-Web content, most of it tied to TV shows produced by Fox and NBC U. Hulu’s unique user base shot up to 9.5 million in February from 7.2 million in January.

YouTube still maintains a milewide lead over all the competish, as it delivered 5.2 billion vid streams in February, down 11% from January.

But Hulu ranks No. 1 by the yardstick of how much time viewers spend watching its video, with an average of 176.9 minutes per viewer in February vs. 99.6 minutes for YouTube — a strong indication that most Hulu viewers are watching full-length episodes through the service.

Hulu won’t break out numbers for individual programs and clips, but its top-five list of most-viewed items since its launch includes clips from “Saturday Night Live” — the “Natalie Raps” short featuring Natalie Portman, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler playing Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton — and two episodes of “Family Guy.”

But go figure: Hulu’s most-watched item to date is a faux PSA about the digital TV transition from a recent episode of Fox’s latenight skein “Talkshow With Spike Feresten.”

The February numbers are nothing but good news for Hulu, but they also offer evidence that more and more viewers are opting to watch NBC and Fox hits online, at least some of the time, rather than the regular TV telecast. And that’s not such good news for the Peacock and Fox nets.

Hulu’s success is undoubtedly chipping away at those networks’ ratings, and yet the nets still command far more coin for a 30-second commercial spot than Hulu does (think six figures for a high-rated show on the network compared with five figures or less for a digital spot).

But from the get-go, NBC U and News Corp. brass have said Hulu is a big investment in the future. It’s also an effort to ensure that Internet-savvy viewers have legal access to their shows in an online venue where NBC U and News Corp. can sell ads; without such a venue users might seek out illegal sources.

Hulu pushed Yahoo out of the No. 2 spot in the online video rankings for February. Yahoo slipped to No. 3 with an 8% decline from January to 250 million streams. Rounding out the top five were Nickelodeon’s various sites, with a 3% gain to 209 million streams, and Fox Interactive Media (primarily MySpace) with 194 million, down 9%.

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