Hulu Adds Viewer Choice to Ad Experience with Public Launch

Premium video portal Hulu will step out of beta today with some features allowing viewers to specify how and when they see messages from the site’s sponsors.

The company, a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp., will let people choose the advertisers they’d prefer to see attached to their chosen program or film. An individual might choose Unilever brands over Intel, for instance. Adding the element of choice will create a more relevant experience, Hulu believes. Additionally, it could potentially give the firm’s sales team useful information about an individual’s product interests for use in later ad targeting.

In another ad customization move, Hulu will let its visitors soak up whole episodes without commercial interruption in exchange for viewing longer branded ad experiences.

The flexible ad features weren’t available during the platform’s four-month private beta. They will be offered alongside Hulu’s bread-and-butter interstitial units, which are scattered throughout a given episode. Each episode is also preceded by a “sponsor card” that identifies the advertiser. At this point, Hulu does not offer Flash overlay ads of the sort made popular by YouTube, VideoEgg, and a number of other video ad networks.

Hulu has scored high early marks from its beta testers in the tech and marketing blogosphere, who have praised its clean interface and large content library. At launch that library includes approximately 250 TV series and 100 feature films. Distribution partners AOL, Comcast-owned Fancast.com, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo have signed on to offer content from Hulu parents News Corp. and NBC TV, as well as other partners like MGM Studios, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. Television Group, Lionsgate and the NBA. However, neither ABC nor CBS has signed on.

Specific content will include feature films like “Thank You for Smoking” and “Some Like It Hot;” TV programs including “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip;” and made-for-Web clips from Onion News Network and other sources.

End users are also permitted to embed shows and clips on their sites; according to Hulu, beta users have done so to the tune of 50,000 individual video players on 6,000 sites.

Advertisers at launch include Best Buy, Chili’s, DirecTV, Intel, General Motors, State Farm and Unilever, several of which signed on almost a year ago when the project was first announced. Heading up ad sales at Hulu will be SVP Jean-Paul Colaco. Colaco and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, along with their bosses at NBCU and News Corp., are betting the presence of so many top shelf shows and the elegant user experience will win over consumers and marketers alike.

“These are the same attributes that make Hulu attractive to major brands,” NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker said in a statement. “Both groups see the value in a quality, clutter-free online service.”

Hulu will initially stream videos only in the U.S., though the company one day intends to offer its content internationally. The company has offices in New York, L.A. and Beijing. In October it raised $100 million in funding from Providence Equity Partners.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Jean-Paul Colaco’s name.

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