Hulu just blocked its video content from the newest BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. That's the latest tablet to support Adobe Flash (and pretty damn well too) next to the Motorola Xoom to get the Hulu gate pulled down on it.
My big concern is: what good is the full web with Flash on a tablet "computer" if content is just going to get cut off?
From what we know, free Hulu content is blocked on any web browser that is running on any hardware that's not a typical computer — PC, Mac or Linux. The line's been drawn and it couldn't be clearer: mobile devices are getting locked out whether they support Flash or not.
Hulu's solution is: go download Hulu Plus and start paying them to watch stuff.
Flash Is Not the Trump Card For Non-iOS Tablets
Hulu (which, in the interest of full disclosure, shares a parent company with DVICE through NBC) is a big Adobe Flash supporter. It's a very big player. When deciding on what type of tablet to get, consumers have three real choices now: iPad, Android and BlackBerry. As you probably know, the iPad doesn't support Flash and will probably never support it. Steve Jobs and Apple hate it. In the past, Jobs made it clear that Flash ruins everything. It sucks the battery out of most devices. It crashes. And most of the web's Flash elements are not optimized for touch because they're made for use with a mouse. Apple says it supports two platforms: HTML 5 and its own App Store.
iPad competitors have for lack of a better feature, been using the "Our tablet runs Adobe Flash" dig at Apple for over a year now. Now that we finally have devices that actually run Flash well, one of the best content providers — Hulu — flips us the bird.
App Shmap, It's Called the Full Web
I get that on a smartphone, Hulu pushing its Hulu Plus app and charging $8 a month to watch videos makes sense, but that's because most smartphones can't run Flash and if they can, it's a real crawling experience — when it works. Running Hulu on a device natively through an app is a workaround for shoddy Flash performance.
But it shouldn't be the workaround on a device that's perfectly capable of Flash web video.
So why is Hulu blocking tablets like the PlayBook and Xoom? I tried Hulu on the PlayBook a week prior to its release, and it worked fine. The playback was similar to performance on a netbook. So why aren't netbooks cut out as well? Aren't they just tablets with a keyboard and the non-touchable screens?
Is it the size that matters? Hulu did the same thing to Google TV, but TVs are large — not mobile.
The real question is: what's the difference between free Hulu on a "computer" with Flash and free Hulu on a mobile tablet? Is a netbook, a MacBook Air and any other ultraportable device not also a mobile device? Aren't we always arguing whether or not we'll be able to do away with laptops all at once and just move on to tablets?
Of course, these situations are often more complicated than they appear, and Hulu is not talking. Streaming video in particular is often tied up with a lot of licensing and strict deals and red tape, and it's no stretch to imagine that even if Hulu wanted to — and who knows if the site would, considering tablets represent a fast-growing market with new monetization opportunities — there's no guarantee that it could bring its service to the PlayBook without breaching a contract or two.
Still, right now there is no Hulu Plus app in BlackBerry's app world. The PlayBook's been criticized for its lack of apps a million times over, but like many have mentioned, who needs an app, when the full web works just fine?
Flash a Non-Contender
This leads me to the conclusion that if Hulu keeps going down this road, other Flash video providers can do the same. Why would anybody bother considering an Android or BlackBerry tablet when the iPad 3, 4, 5, etc. will be in the same boat as Hulu-blocked tablets? To see the awesome Flash banner ads? To play lame Flash games? While I understand Hulu blocking their vids from tablets with full browsers isn't the one bullet that will kill non-iPad tablets, it is one less advantage they will have. In the end, you might buy a Xoom for its cool Chrome-like web browser or a PlayBook for its mighty HD camera, but it won't be because it can bring the PC web to a tablet. Hulu's already ruined that.