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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 2, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Xbox vet to lead Hulu’s living room team in Seattle

Streaming video service Hulu has hired a veteran of Microsoft’s Xbox team to head its Seattle office building “living room” technologies.

Barry Steinglass starts today as vice president of software development heading a 35-person team that just moved into new downtown offices with room to expand.

The Seattle team is responsible for Hulu’s presence on “anything not a smartphone or a browser,” Steinglass said, including game consoles, web-connected TVs and media adapters such as the Roku and Chromecast devices.

BarrySteinglass_Hulu

Steinglass, 36, joins at a critical time for Hulu, which has become one of the standard streaming video apps on mobile and living room devices. But it continues to be the underdog to Netflix and YouTube and face growing competition from Amazon.com’s video offering, which over the last year overtook Hulu viewership during prime time, according to Sandvine’s market share reports.

Hulu has a huge war chest. After trying to sell the seven-year-old venture, the big content companies that own Hulu decided last year to double down instead. Disney, Fox and NBCUniversal pledged to invest $750 million in new content and technology, including software that Steinglass will be building in Seattle.

Steinglass said Hulu is positioned to compete not just for viewers online but for talent in Seattle, which has a cluster of companies developing streaming media technologies. Advantages include the company’s “relaxed atmosphere” and “the projects that we’re working on and some of the problems we’re trying to solve and the fact that we’ve got good brand recognition and a head start,” he said.

Asked what the digital living room will look like in five years, Steinglass said there isn’t yet a clear picture.

“Personally I think it’s a really heavily contested space and there’s a lot of innovation and I don’t think the dust has settled,” he said. “I’m not sure, honestly, the dust will have settled in five years.”

By streaming first-run TV shows Hulu gives options to “cord cutters” looking for alternatives to cable services. But Steinglass – and the content owners behind Hulu – see it as a complement rather than a replacement.

“Hulu is about giving people a chance to consume their content in a more flexible way, but not a complete replacement,” he said.

Steinglass declined to speculate much on whether Hulu will broaden its offerings to include sports and games.

“I have to imagine some of that war chest goes to content licensing and fighting the fight on that front,” he said. “I’m more focused on the technology side.”

Hulu is based in the Los Angeles area but it has deep ties to Seattle. Its founding executives were veterans of Amazon.com and Microsoft and at one point half of its developers in California hailed from Seattle.

The company opened a small Seattle engineering office in 2010 and in February hired another Xbox veteran, Tian Lim, as chief technology officer. Steinglass replaces Zach Holt, who led the Seattle office until April.

Lim and Steinglass worked together at Microsoft before Lim went on to develop network services for Sony’s PlayStation.

Steinglass grew up in Nepal and the Middle East - his father was with the Peace Corps and the World Health Organization – then went to high school and college in Virginia. He was recruited by Microsoft in 1999 and worked on Exchange before joining Xbox in its early days.

He left Microsoft in 2006, after shipping an HD-DVD player accessory for the Xbox that was part of a broader effort by Microsoft to insert its technology into the emerging market for interactive, high-definition digital media.

HD-DVD never took off as a media platform but Steinglass eventually co-founded Opscode, a successful Seattle enterprise software startup now called Chef that’s raised $63 million.

Still, Steinglass has kept his Xbox HD-DVD player connected to his TV set at home, alongside a collection of consoles ranging from original Nintendo hardware up to an Xbox One running the Hulu app.

Here’s a Hulu image of the Wii U app released in 2012:

huluwiu

Comments | Topics: Chef, Digital media, hulu

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