Will Hulu Soon Require a Cable Subscription? Probably Not
Right now, users can access many shows from ABC, NBC and Fox on Hulu.com the day after the episodes air on broadcast television for free. Last fall, Fox started limiting next-day access to its most popular prime-time offerings. Although Dish Network, Verizon and Hulu Plus subscribers can still access next-day offerings, free Hulu.com users or Fox.com users need to wait an additional eight days.
The New York Post is reporting that this authentication practice — a parlance common amongst various TV Everywhere solutions — will become more widespread in the future.
The Post cites its sources as saying that this move to a more authentication-heavy model was part of the reason that Providence Equity Partners decided to sell its stake in Hulu back to the media owners — which include Disney, Comcast and News Corp.
So does this mean that Hulu will soon require users to subscribe to cable to access content? Not exactly — and at least, not for now.
Don’t Bring Out the Pitchforks…Yet
While one source told us that Hulu is in talks with networks about adding more TV Everywhere-style login options for certain programming, another claimed that the discussions were merely about Fox signing more television providers into its online system.
Fox has been the most bullish network when it comes to restricting current content to cable or satellite subscribers. Last September, Fox began limiting next-day access to its programming on Fox.com. Verizon and Dish Network subscribers can login to Fox.com with their accounts and access next-day content. Everyone else has to wait eight days.
Fox’s agreement with Hulu allows Hulu Plus next-day access to 95% of its content. For certain shows, such as The Simpsons, free Hulu or Hulu Plus users must authenticate with Verizon or Dish to gain access to the programming.
One source close to the cable industry tells us that some of the talks referenced in The New York Post article refer to Fox signing on additional cable and satellite providers — and potentially restricting more programming to those subscribers for next-day access.
Another television insider we spoke with said that while it’s possible that the other major networks — namely ABC and NBC — could look at restricting next-day access to its programming, that move would be at odds with the broader online strategies employed by the networks.
For example — while Hulu is only accessible on the iPhone, iPad and Android to Hulu Plus subscribers, ABC, NBC and CW content is available to users via free apps for iOS and Android.
It’s possible those apps could move to an authentication model as well, but again, this appears unlikely at this time.
We expect to hear more about the online distribution strategies from the various broadcast networks at upfronts later this month.
A Hulu representative declined to comment at this time.