The Los Angeles Times reports that Hulu will begin billing itself as the “online video service formerly known as free.” Though an actual announcement by Hulu representatives has yet to be made, and all we have is the Times’s confirmation of sources familiar with the plans, this has been long rumored and speculated about.
It comes as no surprise that Hulu will begin charging, and that it would probably be a subscription based service, but what is surprising is the fee itself… The Times reports it will be $9.95 a month and cover an expanded library of shows, while still offering viewers five free recent episodes of their faves like Glee, Lost and SNL among a host of other televised content. That’s pretty steep for shows that used to be broadcast free of charge (and still are if you have an HDTV antenna!), but it’s still nice that Hulu will offer some free content for folks that might have missed of Kitchen Nightmares.
No word on whether this “Hulu Plus” service will offer unlimited content for each month, or if it would be for a tier of shows. More disturbingly, there’s little said about advertising and how much you’ll have to put up with once you’ve paid up. Remember, television advertising once specifically underwrote the free shows you watched. Cable offered respite from that by offering a subscription and shows without commercials (since you already paid), but increasingly cable has become a sub-premium wasteland service where advertising permeates a number of popular channels that once had little or no ads running. The biggest complaint about cable of late is that not only do you pay sky-high fees for the privilege of having it, but the number and length of ads has increased in our DVR/time-shifting era of consuming content. If Hulu becomes saturated with ads, and features them even after you’ve paid, well… let’s just say it doesn’t look like this will put the brakes on illegal content via P2P networks and torrents.
A lot of this new paywall system comes as pressure from cable operators and network affiliates mounts regarding the fees for content they pay the studios. Cable companies in particular are beginning to balk at paying rebroadcast fees when they see services like Hulu get away scot-free. As paywalls become more and more attractive to big companies and media conglomerates protective of their products (what we on the other side call “our shows”), expect more such content to be hidden away. The days of free might not be entirely over on the Internet, but the grip of the big media conglomerates is tightening, slowly but surely as more online newspapers, magazines, movies and TV content gets put under lock and key, viewable with a subscription only.
More to come as this story develops and Hulu makes the official announcement… Hopefully they’ll offer an inexpensive ala carte service as well.
Would you pay for Hulu service via a subscription? Would you prefer to pay ala carte (low fee per episode)? Let us know in the comments section below!