I have been a Hulu subscriber for years but it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve started enthusiastically recommending it to my friends. The reason for this is because Hulu is getting a lot more quality content, including original shows such as Casual and Difficult People, as well as acclaimed premium series such as FX’s Fargo. Add in the fact that Hulu just swiped a bunch of hit movies from Netflix and you have a service that’s very compelling in its own right and isn’t just an also-ran to Netflix anymore.
So with Hulu getting so much better, that must mean it’s time for the corporate bigwigs at Fox and Time Warner to ruin it.
A new report from Re/code claims that both Fox and Time Warner are eyeing some major policy changes for Hulu aimed at helping their protect their legacy live television businesses. Essentially, Hulu has gotten too compelling for cord cutters and both media companies are worried that fewer people will buy into pricey cable bundles when a cheaper alternative is there for significantly less money.
“During his most recent earnings call, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch was asked repeatedly about his approach to video licensing in general and Hulu in particular, with analysts suggesting that Hulu was cannibalizing his core TV business,” Re/code writes. “His response, repeatedly, was that things were going to change, somehow.”
What would this change look like? Re/code speculates that Fox could do a couple of things. First, it could try offering access to its content only to Hulu subscribers who have already subscribed to a traditional cable bundle as well. The other option would be to stop showing its shows on Hulu the day after they’ve aired and instead wait a year before releasing them to the streaming service.
Both of these moves would be terrible for Hulu and would effectively kill its subscriber growth. Hulu users are already paying a monthly subscription fee for the service and the cheapest version of it even includes regular ads that are completely absent on Netflix. To tell subscribers that they would also have to pay for a pricey cable bundle in addition to what they’re paying now would ruin Hulu’s appeal.
Re/code similarly points to recent stories about Time Warner taking a significant stake in Hulu while noting that “it’s hard to imagine any scenario where Time Warner invests in Hulu without a significant change in the way it operates.”
I’d like to say I’m surprised by this sort of thing, but I’m sadly not. While cable companies have taken a lot of the brunt insisting on selling us expensive channel bundles over the years, it’s been the content providers that have been the biggest obstacles to giving viewers real choices in how they watch TV.
Although it sounds insane that anyone would want to make their product worse because people like it too much, the major TV studios have shown again and again over the years that they’re utterly clueless when it comes to responding to consumer demand. And if they effectively gut Hulu, they’ll have only themselves to blame when more people turn to piracy.