Hulu to Start Charging in 2010

The website Hulu, best known for its free library of TV shows and ability to devour entire afternoons, is radically changing its game plan.

It was revealed at an industry summit earlier this week that Hulu will start charging viewers as soon as next year. News Corp Deputy Chairman Chase Carey laid out a plan for a subscription service, with some content still being offered for free.

Now, there is a long track record to suggest that switching from a free service to a subscription can kill a product. (See: online newspaper content.) If you give something to the public for free once, it sets up an expectation that it will always be free. Of course, if a service wants to keep its head above water it will inevitably have to start charging. That’s small consolation to the viewers, however, who feel like the rug got pulled out from under them.

While its exact business model remains unclear, there are several changes that Hulu will need to make in order to pull off a subscription service:

  • No more commercials. Episodes should be smooth and completely uninterrupted.
  • Select the free content carefully. For instance, only offer the first episode of each season for free as a teaser.
  • Stack the library. Right now, Hulu has a pretty solid stable of shows, but if they want to ask for subscriptions they need much more content.

There are plenty of places on the internet (most illegal) to watch free TV. Will you pay for the reputable service of Hulu, or will you look somewhere else for your online TV needs?

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20 responses to “Hulu to Start Charging in 2010

  1. I heard about this. Hulu has been the hot spot for everything lately, but I feel like after they start charging for content, the typical users who get a lot out of Hulu will start getting their content elsewhere. We unfortunately live in a day and age where anything is free if you don’t mind searching for it on the Internet. DVDs, CDs, even movies that haven’t reached theaters yet or have just hit theaters. Anything is attainable. Sad to say, but it’s the truth and the nature of the world we live in. Nobody wants to pay for something if they don’t have to. This is why journalism–along with everything else–is struggling so badly.

    • I agree – it’s sad but true. Before I read this, I was thinking “I love Hulu, so I’d pay!” but now I realize: no I would not.

      Looking back, I have sacrificed quality and watched my beloved Grey’s Anatomy on a tiny unable-to-be-enlarged screen with Japanese subtitles, simply because it was free. For less than two dollars, I could have had full screen and perfect pixelation on iTunes. What makes me think people would pay for Hulu?

  2. Here’s the thing. I have no problem finding TV shows online without hulu. My guess is that a good chunk of its viewing public knows how too. Hulu generally has the best quality, but I’d be more than willing to suffer through a grainy family guy episode than pay for it.

  3. I figured this had to be coming. It’s too bad because I enjoyed how Hulu allowed me to watch TV shows on my own schedule. Oh well.

  4. I’m not a huge Hulu-er to begin with, but this will probably deter me for the time being. I flat-out don’t watch enough TV, online or otherwise, to make paying subscription fees worth it right now.

    How much will the fees be though, have they said yet? Will people start paying for both their regular cable TV and/or TiVo AND their Hulu account now?

  5. If I wanted to pay for commercial-free viewing, I would just use netflix to catch up on my shows. I can tolerate the commercials on Hulu much more than a subscription payment.

    Having to pay for Hulu would force me to go back to SideReel.com, even if that does mean dealing with sketchy quality videos and annoying pop-up ads. Not cool, Hulu…not cool.

    • Wow. I’m kind of sad right now. Although I love catching up on Family Guy via Hulu, I really really don’t want to pay for it. I’m on board with pretty much everyone else-I’d rather look elsewhere online and deal with bad quality or Netflix my shows than pay for them. The thought of having more episodes on Hulu is a nice trade-off, but not enough for me to pay.

  6. NewsCorp. also owns the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and newspapers throughout Europe and Asia (and, of course, all the Fox TV networks and 20th Century Fox). Its chairman, Rupert Murdoch, announced this summer that all of NewsCorp.’s news Web sites will begin charging for content. (The WSJ has charged for some content for a long time now.)

    “Quality journalism is not cheap,” said Murdoch. “The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free.”

    Many in the news and entertainment fields are watching Murdoch’s experiment with interest. With his vast media empire, could he be the one who finally forces us back to paying for content?

    P.S. I voted “yes” in the poll because I would pay to see “Glee.” Like you wouldn’t?

    • I like this quote and am willing to bet that Murdoch ends up being right.

      I know this is not necessarily how it always works, but there’s a correlation in my mind between having to pay a little extra and getting better quality merchandise. (With the exception of cereal- I stand by my theory that generic “Bran Flakes” are actually better than “Wheaties.”) Dropping the extra cash for brands I trust, like Asics for my running shoes or Columbia for a coat to get me through Iowa winters, have proven to be worth it for me. I think Murdoch is banking on this proving true for news and other information as well. “Name brand” news such as the NY Times, Wash Post, WSJ, etc, will gain the trust of the public over the “generic brand” news of random bloggers and unfamiliar sites.

      As far as I’m concerned, it stinks for those of us who are broke college students. But as a business strategy, I think it’s smart.

  7. Oh no. This is not okay. Before Hulu, I watched almost everything illegally, and I was happy to make the switch to watching my shows with some generally tolerable commercial interruptions. Now it looks like I’ll have to switch back, because as a college student, I can’t afford cable–let alone a Hulu subscription to watch the few shows I can’t catch during the week on my box that sometimes gets 18 channels (thankfully, Fox is one of them, so I don’t have to pay to watch “Glee.”)

    I don’t like the new trend of introducing something as free, and then after it becomes popular, making people pay for it. You’re not going to gain any popularity votes with that one. Perhaps, if they introduced it with a cheap subscription fee, and then gradually increased it if you wanted a more complicated membership (like… Netflix. I like Netflix), I think they would have been better off. Oh well.

  8. This one made me think. I’ve always thought that I would never, ever, pay for online content. Ever. It’s just one of those things that rubs me the wrong way – particularly given that so much content is available for free as is.
    While I voted “no” on the Hulu topic, it was the closest I’ve come to voting yes for paying for online content. Maybe there’s something to that.

  9. I only watch one show on TV–Glee. I’ve recently discovered the joys of Hulu because I have a meeting on Wednesday nights (the night it comes on) so it’s been really convenient to be able to watch it whenever. I am going to be very annoyed if I have to start paying for that one show! I would understand paying for something like Hulu if I watched a million shows and was really into TV, but I’m not. I hardly ever watch TV, except recently I’ve fallen in love with Glee. So, no I would not pay for Hulu and I really hope they change their minds. Also I agree with Kate that I would pick the commercials over payment any day.

  10. Unless the subscription is something insanely cheap like $10 for a year, I won’t be paying for it. If anything, I’ll split a netflix account with a friend and watch my TV shows that way. I’d rather even pay the $30 just to own the season myself rather than paying to watch it online once.
    It’s interesting that Hulu spent so much on advertising early in the year, especially those commercials during the Super Bowl and shortly after. They got a lot of traffic after that, but I think there will be a backlash with this new policy. Until literally everything on the web is pay-only, people will settle for free content vs. quality content.

  11. The only reason I like Hulu is that it is free and convenient. If it comes to the point where I would need to start paying for content then I’ll probably just rearrange my schedule to watch my favorite shows on t.v. for free. It’s all about simplicity for me. And right now, I don’t have any spare cash so, t.v. shows are on the back burner.

  12. I think the micropayment idea could work here — have people pay $.99 to watch an episode of LOST. The iTunes store has already proved that people are willing to pay for TV shows (and Hulu could undercut Apple by $1!). Once again, I think people are making too big of a stink about paying for online content. It’s obviously happening, and we obviously have to get used to it.

  13. Ok, the only thing I’ve ever watched on Hulu was Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog when that came out back in the summer of 2008 (which I think was when Hulu was in it’s infancy).

    Otherwise, if I miss a show, well, I miss a show. I try not to, but if I do actually get around to watching a missed episode, I go right to the network’s website, because they stream them for free! However, I believe most networks only show the current season, so if you want to watch a previous season (which I think Hulu allows), then I would watch that. But then again I can just go ahead and buy the season on DVD.

    Would I pay for Hulu? No, because I don’t watch it enough to pay for it. Maybe my opinion will change if I decide to watch shows that way.

  14. To be completely honest, I’ve never even heard of Hulu before this blog. So I would not pay for Hulu’s services. I don’t usually watch tv online. I will if I missed an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” but that’s about it. I can just watch my tv shows on tv. I don’t need my computer.

  15. I think it’s very interesting that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is the one pushing a subscription service on the public. If anyone can do it, he can – but he could also undercut himself.

    He will be the first real power player to set a price on online content. If I was his competitor, I would merely wait until he set a price and then set one of my own – lower than his. Someone has to take this step first, but it is not without its very apparent risks.

  16. NO!!!!! Stop the madness!!! They cannot do this to Hulu. It just isn’t right. There’s no way anyone’s going to pay for that stuff, myself included. I agree with Autumn 110% on this one. I’d rather suffer through poor quality and see my shows for free.

  17. Nooooooooo! I am so mad! I love Hulu, but not enough to pay for its content. What I liked most about Hulu was that it was free content that I trusted. Sometimes you can find some places on the Web that offer free shows, but they’re a little bit sketchy.

    My first choice for watching TV online is always Hulu. But if I have to start paying, I’m not going to use it anymore. Plain and simple.

    I’ll go somewhere where I can get more bang for my buck. Like you said, there just isn’t enough content. I would rather pay a monthly subscription to a company like Netflix that has thousands and thousands of quality shows and movies that I can watch instantly without commercials.

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