Film and TV

Hulu might die. Here's why you shouldn't care.

News Corp. and Disney (who own Fox and ABC, respectively) are considering pulling their ad-based free streaming shows from Hulu -- remember that they are two of the three companies who founded Hulu back in 2008. Hulu has done incredibly well in terms of viewership, but its subscription-based Hulu Plus hasn't really caught on, meaning its success comes from the free shows two thirds of its founders want to pull. Which would leave Hulu with NBC's programming and the movie Strictly Sexual. Doesn't sound like a winner to us.

Hulu appears to be falling apart at the seams. Management is considering a sort of online TV service, which would basically work like a cross between Hulu Plus and what you get out of cable on your standard TV. That might work if it's done really well, but it entails a complete overhaul of the company and Hulu is looking more and more like an organization that cannot lead any sort of media revolution.

The biggest problem, of course, is that the content providers own the thing. ABC and FOX are understandably impatient about the depreciating value of their shows that comes with having them streaming for free online. And because they have such a large stake in the company, they won't allow it to take serious risks, which is what might ultimately lead to a viable solution. For Hulu's first couple years, the founding companies did a remarkably good job of letting it develop unimpeded, but today's news of Disney and News Corp.'s unease is a clear indication that they don't feel they can break any more eggs for this particular omelet. And if ABC and FOX disappear from Hulu's free streaming section before a new model can be properly developed, the whole thing could very easily collapse.

As a consumer of TV shows, that shouldn't worry you too much.

The content providers, while they may be a little over cautious, are not idiots. They know there is a point down the road where all media will be consumed online. They are so eager to find ways of pushing content in that direction, in fact, that NBC (the third Hulu founder) has recently started giving Saturday Night Live episodes to Netflix.

So these shows will be online almost regardless of what happens. And actually, if they wind up on Netflix, that will work nicely for the 20 million people who already pay for Netflix subscriptions. The reason they've been able to attract so many people to a monthly payment when Hulu Plus has not is that Netflix offers an actual, physical product as well -- you get movies in the mail in addition to the streaming service. People remain uneasy about paying for things on the internet, but society has pretty much made its peace with buying physical things online. And Netflix, unlike Hulu, is not eating itself alive with conflicting interests among upper-management.

Apple has also been discussed as an alternative. The iTunes store currently offers TV and movies for relatively pain-free prices, but that's not what would fill the hypothetical Hulu void -- that would be a streaming service, long hinted at from Apple and bolstered by last year's purchase of the music streaming site Lala.

Regardless, you will continue to be able to watch TV online, whether Hulu goes under or not. And it's really starting to seem like it will go under.

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