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Infinite Jest

September 21st, 2009 by Eugene Wei SVP, Audience

When I was growing up, watching TV was largely a sporadic, if regular, event. Each week, an episode of the shows we followed would air, and the family would gather around the TV to watch. Even after VCRs came to market, the capacity of VHS tapes and the slow, somewhat imprecise nature of fast forwarding and rewinding the tapes meant that binge viewing of TV shows wasn’t ideal.

Even in that time, the demand for marathon sessions of viewing existed. It just wasn’t easy. Sometime in the second season of The X-Files, I caught an episode on TV, loved it, and wondered how I could catch up on all the episodes I’d missed. The show hadn’t been syndicated and DVDs hadn’t been invented yet.

The Internet had, though, and so I went onto an X-Files newsgroup, explained my situation, and offered to pay to ship a whole series of blank VHS tapes to any fan willing to dub the first season and mail the tapes back to me. To my surprise, someone accepted, and a few weeks later, a huge box arrived in the mail. I spent an entire weekend locked in my room, curtains drawn, watching some 30 episodes of The X-Files back to back.

Soon after, DVDs and then DVRs hit the market, and, perhaps not coincidentally, studios started to issue TV series with long, serial plotlines that required that you to start from the beginning and keep up with multiple story threads, all intertwined. A TV series like 24 or Lost, with its complex plotlines, is more difficult to imagine in the age before DVD box sets, DVR subscriptions and Internet episode guides.

This trip through days of TV viewing past is a long way of introducing Continuous Play, a new feature we’ve added to Hulu today. Even in the on-demand world of online viewing, we see plenty of binge viewing as people work their way through multiple episodes in a session. Continuous Play makes this easier.

Though it’s a new feature, it’s built off some logic that already exists on our site. As you play a video from your queue, for example, we will pause for a moment when the video reaches its endpoint, and then move on to play the next video in your queue, automatically. Continuous Play expands this logic outside of the queue.

Hulu - Continuous Play

Now on every video player on our site, you’ll see a new Continuous Play bar under the video player. On the far right is a dropdown that shows what playlist of videos Continuous Play is working from. For now, there are three primary types of playlists. One is Your Queue, mentioned earlier. The next class is Collections, which have always been part of our site, but which now play continuously. The last type of playlist is more of whichever title you’re watching. If you’re watching a bit from Saturday Night Live, the playlist will be “Saturday Night Live” and will play more sketches from SNL in sequential order. If you’re watching an episode of 30 Rock, Continuous Play will play more episodes of 30 Rock in sequential order.

Hulu - Collections Playlist

Just to the left of the dropdown is the On/Off switch for Continuous Play which does just what is says it does. If you click on a video from Your Queue, Continuous Play will turn on, and your queue will play one video after another, just as it always has. Select a group of videos from our Collections page, and Continuous Play will also turn on. Anywhere else on the site, we’ve left Continuous Play off by default. If you visit Hulu from the same computer, we’ll retain the on/off state of Continuous Play from one session to the next.

Hulu - Queue

On the far left of our video panel, you’ll find the “next video” button. Clicking it will send you to the next video in the playlist. Hovering over the “next video” button will show the title of the next video to the right of the button, but if you want a visual view of the next videos in the playlist, click the “show playlist” button below the dropdown and a carousel will drop down, allowing you to browse the playlist and jump ahead to another video if you’d like.

Continuous Play controls carry over to full screen and pop-out modes as well. Give it a try and let us know what you think. If you’re looking for a suggestion as to where to start, try Lost. We have the first four seasons. Start with the Pilot episode, turn on continuous play, and some 84 episodes and roughly 62 hours later, you’ll have a good idea of how Continuous Play works (though you may have a lot of questions about smoke monsters, time travel and the nature of fate).

Eugene Wei
VP of Product

P.S.: The title of my blog post is a reference to the novel by David Foster Wallace, which I finished recently as part of the recent Infinite Summer book group. In the book, Wallace writes about a film so entertaining that viewers lose all desire to do anything except watch the film again and again. I can’t help but think of that fictional film whenever I hear of someone who stayed up all night watching an entire season of a TV show.

Last comment: Aug 7th 2010 18 Comments
  • S says:

    I do not like that videos are removed from the queue after viewing. I want to be able to watch the episodes as many times as I like without having to constantly re-add them.

  • Jeff coats says:

    I love continuous play but on some machines it doesn’t work. It asks me to choose a commercial and if I don’t it just freezes. I use hulu to stream my favorites all day and night. And really want this to work. What am I not getting? Also I don’t see a shuffle function in my que. Which would be great. Hulu is my private television channel upon which someting I want to eat h is always on. Thanks!

  • Sam, the queue has always been set to play continuously. I’ll let our team know you’d like an option to change that setting.

  • Sam says:

    Every time I enter my queue, continuous play is turned on even if it is from the same computer and from the same browser. How can I have continuous play turned off by default? Or is there a way to disable the feature entirely?

  • Mike Opal says:

    I freaking love Infinite Jest, and did Infinite summer too. I like the reference (and the new feature).

  • Kristina says:

    Love the continuous play feature! Great job to all those that worked on the feature. Also the ability to see what is next and single button to go to the next show once the credits start going. I’ve seen the credits a million times for my favorite shows.

  • Vincent Tang says:

    AWESOME. I love it. Works with no bugs whatsoever in Chrome. Thanks Hulu.

  • We’re investigating a possible bug with Firefox. Thanks all!

  • Libbazet says:

    I love continuous play, I just wish it would work consistently. This morning I was watching in my queue and when it finished the first video it stopped. Didn’t give me the option of the next one which is a different series. Since up until Monday the queue had always worked this way (I personally think it is a big selling point since I binge view but not always from one series and requiring less intervention from me is good) I am upset.

    FF 3.5.3 WindowsXP

  • Michael Cartwright says:

    Im having the same problem as Jen. Im using the Firefox browser on a Mac with the current OS & the videos just stop and don’t continue. Love the idea of this feature, just need to get it working for me.

  • Thanks all for your feedback. Keep it coming, and feel free to write us at feedback@hulu.com.

    Jen, I contacted you offline to see if I can get some additional info about your browser and OS.

  • Jen Bones says:

    Continuous play does not work for me. I have it turned on, but nothing happens when a video ends, it just sits there like it always does. I think it’s a good feature, especially for watching lots of short videos. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work unless it’s an issue with my browser (Firefox).

  • Sharon says:

    I like the continuous play, although there’s one thing that I think could be changed: when you use “pop-out” the only continuous play option seems to be that series that you’re watching. Before the change, if I popped the screen out, I automatically got the next video in my queue. Now, I’m getting the series, and the only way that I can go through my queue is to leave the screen embedded in the window. If that one little aspect is changed for us “pop-out” people, I think it would be perfect.

  • Hulu User says:

    Neat little feature. I’m not expecting to use it much but will if I find it useful. Please don’t take the following comments as discouragement of sorts. I am consistently pleased with Hulu’s continual roll-out of new features, even if I’m not pleased with the results.

    Down to business. I find I have a similar opinion to Matthew’s above. I disagree with him that there should be an option to remove it completely, but I think the Continuous Play’s fullscreen interface is out of place and bulky. I frequently find myself using the seek, pause, and restore buttons and it’s much harder to click on them when you have to worry about vertical mouse position. (And to be frank, the previous position of the seek bar happily kept itself below widescreen video content. Now fullscreen ratio video is even more obscured.)

    I will say, however, that I quite appreciate that Continuous Play is off by default unless a queue or collection is being watched. Not because I dislike the feature, but because it just makes sense and could have been a disaster if implemented across the whole site.

    Additionally, I like the new Enter Queue button alternating with the existing Exit Queue button. This is something I’d previously thought would be nice to have, but the reduction to five seconds to exit may be too few for me personally, oftentimes, to realize the video has ended and find the mouse and find the button. But others may think it’s still too long to wait.

    Finally, seemingly related to the update is a queue removal bug by which videos are not removed from the queue after viewing. Several Discussion threads have already been started concerning the issue, but as recent site policy dictates my full name will be disclosed if I were to make a new comment on the site proper, I find that I can’t bring myself to add to the conversation in the conventional manner, which is primarily your loss. I thought I should use this forum instead to convey my displeasure with the current situation. It’s a shame that the best feature of the site is always so bug-ridden.

  • Lego says:

    I’ve never liked how when you are done with one video it automatically starts playing the next. One of the few faults with Hulu.

  • Amber says:

    Love it! I’m catching up on LOST now (As in I stopped watching during season 1…I know) and this will help when trying to watch a whole season in one night! :-) Thank you Hulu!

  • Matthew says:

    This makes everything look cluttered and removes all infinite height to the bottom controls. Where’s the option to disable everything related to this feature? NOT to turn off continous play, but to remove it completely from all videos and use the old player.

  • Samantha says:

    Yes, I am a “binge viewer.” (Love that!) And “Lost” was my first binge. “Twin Peaks” is my current binge (though I have to watch that one at CBS.com).

    Oh, Hulu… you enabler, you.

    (Thank you!)