Hillcrest's Kylo browser latest innovation to get blocked by Hulu
This morning, Rockville-based Hillcrest Labs introduced Kylo, a new browser intended to bridge the gap between the Web and HDTV screens by providing a simplified, remote-friendly interface of large type and big icons. But this program, a free download for Mac and Windows, may also be the latest exhibit of Hollywood's craven cluelessness about video distribution.
The screen shot to the right shows what you see when you try to view a video clip at Hulu, the popular TV-show site prominently featured on Kylo's home page. Instead of the usual video -- which Kylo should have no trouble playing, since it includes Adobe's Flash plug-in -- you get a message saying "Unfortunately, this video is not available on your platform."
The "platform" in question was a laptop running Windows 7, on which my wife and I have watched dozens of hours of TV on Hulu before, and on which a Hulu-hosted "Simpsons" episode started up as usual in Firefox right after my test of Kylo. That message is obvious nonsense.
Hillcrest, which also makes Wii-esque, wireless, motion-sensitive remote controls and a 10-feet-away interface software to support them, seems as puzzled as I am. It followed up its initial press release by e-mailing a brief statement expressing its concern and confusion:
We are currently investigating why Hulu videos are not playing within the Kylo browser. Prior to our formal launch, Hulu videos would play within the Kylo browser. Like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari, the Kylo browser is simply a Web browser, it's our sincere hope that Hulu isn't restricting access.
Hulu's blog and Twitter account are both silent on the matter, and I'm waiting for the company to answer a query e-mailed just before noon. (I'll update this paragraph with their response when I get one.) But Hulu's recent history leaves little room for doubt: One or more of the TV studios that own the site -- NBC Universal, News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. -- objected to a piece of software that might make it easier for viewers to watch Hulu on a TV instead of a computer.
We saw the same self-defeating paranoia at work when Hulu repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to block Boxee's Web-media dashboard software.
One could argue then that Boxee's ability to download videos via BitTorrent, play your own media files and run on such non-computer devices as the Apple TV made it more than just a browser -- but even then, Hulu viewers saw the same video ads in Boxee as in any other program. And NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker couldn't even keep that weak logic straight in House subcommittee hearing last month.
Now Hulu's corporate overlords seem to have taken their control-freakery to an even more absurd extreme: Just using the wrong Web browser on your usual computer may get you kicked off the site. (What will the suits at the studios do when somebody shows them how you can easily run Firefox and Internet Explorer in full-screen modes with simplified interfaces?)
I used to think that Hulu was one of the few signs of intelligence in Hollywood about the Web's potential. Now I'm starting to think it's just another part of the problem.
Update: Hillcrest publicist Jeremy Pemble sent over a second statement confirming everybody's guess: "We have confirmed with Hulu that they are preventing the Kylo web browser from playing Hulu videos." Still no response from Hulu.
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