Hulu is a Web-based video-streaming service with its roots in a collaboration between NBC Universal and Fox Entertainment Group. The companies brewed up the service with the idea that a free and legal site with a straightforward interface might help deter consumers from online piracy. Users can visit Hulu in order to watch full-length movies and TV shows right in their browser. Rather than generating revenue from a subscription-type pay plan, the site works much like mainstream TV, with ads and sponsorships providing the necessary financial support.
Unlike sites such as YouTube, everything on Hulu comes directly from the content providers, and not from users. Because the videos are provided directly by the content owners, most of them come with a fair amount of licensing restrictions, namely most of the content is set to expire after a set amount of time. Also, many programs are offered on a "rolling" schedule, with only a certain number of episodes available at any given time, and new episodes airing on a set schedule that follows the television broadcast by several hours or days. The restrictions are in place in order to encourage users to watch programming while it's on TV, as well as boost DVD sales--both key considerations for the content providers when it comes to licensing.
At press time, Hulu offered a wide variety of content from NBC and Fox (unsurprisingly), and it had just started to add a lot of popular ABC programming as well as programming from Disney. The selection of TV shows is much more impressive than that for movies, and plenty of series from the '80s and '90s are available in their entirety, which is great for those wanting to relive the programming of those decades. Hulu is very user-friendly and straightforward, with a few useful tools for queuing and organizing content. However, the service is currently considering a pay model, so best to check it out soon if you want to enjoy the free content while it lasts. We're definitely rooting for the ad-based service to continue, at least in some form.