March 11, 2010
"If I Can Dream"... I'd Dream of Different Television

If you aren't a big Hulu watcher or hadn't caught wind of this experiment, Hulu has been trying out a new method of online television: it's own _______ series.

I put an underline in my introductory statement, because I hesitate to call it a "television" show. There is a certain distinction to be made between multiple forms of online video, which can be uploaded, hosted, or sponsored television content, or entirely original Internet-based content. Hulu has originally been a portal for content of the first variety: a streamlined user interface for hosting television shows online, closely monitored by actual television networks, to which the ad revenue from the site returns.

With regards to other content, Hulu has hosted not-quite-American-television, such as Japanese animation (though most is available on DVD or official streaming websites). However, the website has never hosted Hulu-specific content... until recently.

More on Hulu's original series "If I Can Dream" after the jump...

After a period of strong advertising through its many streams of videos, on March 2nd, Hulu released the first episode of its new experiment in original programming: If I Can Dream, a reality show conceptualized by Simon Fuller, producer of American Idol. The series follows five young twenty-somethings trying to "make it" in Los Angeles; but what seems to distinguish If I Can Dream from other competitive-skill reality shows is... it's online.

Now, most of my comments will hinge on my initial impressions of the series, having already watched a bit on Hulu and now analyzing where it sits in the history of TV. And I say television because, without a doubt, Dream resembles television content.

Obviously the reality series cannot be categorized as actual content stripped from the television networks, thrown into the whirlpool that is modern online television. However, it is so similar in structure and style that I cannot recommend it as a new approach to how the television industry can adapt to the online environment. Instead, I'll have to settle by agreeing with Mashable in calling it a "made-for-online TV show."

I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed in the final result, because it seems like Dream was concocted as a scheme to push ads. Like an ordinary television show, each episode runs around twenty-five to thirty minutes: just enough to get in enough ad time (and Hulu takes as much advantage of Dream as it does its other content). And even though the series' executive producer Michael Herwick says...

At the end of the day, in my mind, it's about creating sort of a 21st century platform for legitimate, up-and-coming talent. It's such a broader form of entertainment, where you have the 24-hour live streams, you have the weekly episodes on Hulu, and you have all this video-on-demand content. It's very interactive and it's very much in tune with what young people are doing these days. They digest the internet, they're socially interactive, and they're shooting their own videos on YouTube and getting discovered.

... the entire online structure built around the series seems to be geared toward funding a floundering Hulu. This "platform" that Herwick describes consists of Hulu with a main portal at, where -- of course -- the viewer is greeted with a thirty-second ad before any live video content can be viewed. And this live aspect, a 24-hour, round-the-clock perspective similar to Big Brother, keeps on serving those advertisements. The interactivity is certainly there: a user of Dream's website can click multiple cameras to switch views inside the series' household, but is the structure of this series to tell a story or to gather enough attention to boost website analytics?

Hulu, of course, can host all the miscellaneous videos it needs to send out that many more revenue-producing commercials. But my suspicion is that this series does little to keep hold of my attention -- it's basically another reality show that does not impress, with a lackluster cast and certainly not an innovative model (which could at least have been more interesting than the show).

At the very least, Dream is nothing like what "Internet television" might be. We already have a host of wonderful, experimental successes, such as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a three-part series of episodes approximating seventeen minutes each (which I wrote about here) or The Guild, which boasts five-to-six minute episodes, of which it has shipped three seasons to DVD.

Overall, If I Can Dream is uninspiring. It's worth at least a momentary glance, if not just to pay a few cents to watch a Hulu ad.