Let them charge. Hulu can only improve.

Cash Register on White with Clipping Path

The interwebs are abuzz (OMG!) with Hulu’s confirmed exploration of paid tiers and pay-per-view, in addition to the current ad-supported video content model. News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, as quoted by the Associated Press:

Are we looking at it with a view of adding subscription services in there and pay-per-view movies? Yes, we are looking at that.

However, a company spokesperson acknowledges that free video supported by advertising does “resonate most” with viewers, so I doubt we’ll see it go away. Having said that, I have very little use for the current incarnation of Hulu. It’s content library still exhibits the “random crap syndrome” – which I had hoped would be cured when Hulu exited from beta. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t happened. Shows come and go. Good luck finding an entire season/series. (ALF doesn’t count.) And then there’s the restrictive playback policies. No PS3 for you. Screw you too, Boxee. I appreciate the Internet as my video transport mechanism, but I prefer to watch television… on television.

So bring on the pay services, I say. I’m an adult with an adult salary and limited free time. Offer me something worthwhile at a not-outrageous fee, and I’ll pay for premium content and the convenience of quality aggregation. Should Hulu manage to provide it.

12 thoughts on “Let them charge. Hulu can only improve.”

  1. There are two additional angles to this from an industry perspective… advertising revenue and licensing. But here on ZNF I’m a short form blogger focused on the consumer experience. Maybe I’ll pitch that analysis to GigaOm Pro. Or maybe I’ll do something else with that limited free time.

  2. Screen actor and director labor unions will have a field day if hulu starts charging. If you’ll remember, hulu dodge a bullet during strike negotiations with SAG saying that since hulu is free for people to watch, there aren’t any residuals to be had…

    Quite possible the closed door negotiations included a due date for hulu to start paying residuals, now looming, hence the new not-free business model.

    P.S. Did you know there is a Linux desktop client for hulu?


    Ummm, seriously, WTF?

  3. I don’t have a problem with them charging for premium content but network shows? I can watch and record those for free (with better quality) on my PC and take them anywhere I want (PC, portable, etc.) for free. There’s no way I’d pay for broadcast network content.

  4. If Hulu makes the offer worthwhile, with a large library of on-demand content that doesn’t overlap with what’s free elsewhere, I definitely see many current satisfied users being open to subscription and other paid models.

  5. TV is a free item that Hulu wants to package and sell. It’s like bottles of air – what would that be worth to you?

  6. You can pay for content now. You can get shows and whole seasons from iTunes or Amazon. If Hulu starts charging, don’t expect a discount from those services.

  7. re: charging for network (OTA) programming.

    It doesn’t hurt them to offer it for sale, even if buy rates are low. Not everyone gets good over the air reception. I think a lot of people never bother utilizing the DVR functions of their computers.

    And then there’s always the ‘hey, did you see this great new show last night…’ factor, where you missed something and want to catch up.

    For me, the tether to traditional pay-tv services is sports programming. A great deal of what I want in that arena (ha!) requires cable or satellite. Although in some cities, MLB is cutting that tether with in-market streaming of games.

  8. I agree with Rich, I’m already paying for a few cable shows on Amazon, so if Hulu stars charging… I don’t really see the relevance anymore beyond “me too”.

  9. Rich, Dan, If all Hulu did was charge per episode of the same content Amazon and Apple/iTunes offers, I agree there would be little reason to partake.

    But what if they said for $3.99/month we could stream the current catalog to PS3, Roku, Boxee, or similar? Or what if they said for $24.99 month they’d stream every Fox, NBC, USA, SyFy, and FX show/series of the last 3 years without commercial interruption in HD? There’s more than one way to skin this cat… will depend on their creativity and the complex licensing situation. Not to mention consumer response.

  10. Totally agree with Dave. And no one said Hulu would start charging for everything. They won’t. They’ll charge for premium stuff. See Dave’s examples above. I don’t understand the hysteria around this.

  11. Premium stuff? Yeah, I’ve heard talk of that. Like you could watch the episodes of Heroes but if you wanted the extras, like the kind of stuff they put on DVD’s, then you’d have to pay more (either per show or subscription or …). I can only imagine the take rate on this would be extremely low though.

    One obvious way to define the difference between free and premium subscriptions would be whether you see ads or not, but unlikely many people would pay to get rid of the ads.

    Another would be depth of catalog. You can watch the last 1-3 episodes of a series online without a subscription, but if you want the entire back-catalog then you need to subscribe. Might be worth it once in a while for a show you skipped in its original run and decide to watch now. Still not worth a lot though.

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