Hulu model in flux
It appears that there is talk of changing Hulu’s current model. Instead of free-for-all streaming of content, they may be moving toward having viewers use their cable subscription credentials for authentication. In other words, Hulu will still be free if you have a cable subscription.
This is an obvious swipe at cord cutters, who immediately reference Hulu and Netflix when discussing how they get occasional television content. The idea is that by withholding Hulu from those who are not paying for cable, it will discourage future cord cutters and possibly persuade previous cord cutters to return to the fold. It’s not a bad plan in the long run. Without Hulu, how else are cord cutters going to watch Community? That’s what NBC Universal, owned by Comcast, is expecting.
There are of course flaws in this scheme. The most obvious is that someone willing to tune into Hulu for content but unwilling to pay for cable will probably change his or her viewing habits. The first step in becoming a cord cutter is realizing that television isn’t that important. Putting obstacles up in front of content only reinforces that attitude. At least through Hulu there was an additional revenue stream. The article mentions that this move would potentially hurt Hulu, and I would like to chime in that it’s pretty much guaranteed.
Another flaw is the fact that cable companies provide DVRs with most of their subscription plans. What is the point of Hulu when people can just record their shows? I always turn to my DVR for time shifted viewing, not Hulu. Especially for Saturday Night Live, since all musical performances and a handful of sketches get cut out of the Hulu version. I get that Hulu is helpful for people not watching content at home, but I do not know anyone who is on-the-go enough that this matters. When the content is waiting for you at home, why settle for watching things on your laptop or your phone? It’s not like anything is really must-see TV anymore. Time shifted viewing and home media (VHS/DVDs/BDs) killed must-see TV and the idea of the water cooler conversation the next day.
Which brings me to the fact that the content usually isn’t even worth it. It’s true that I have a few favorite shows on television right now. (You’re not surprised.) But I don’t need to see them immediately. I don’t need to see them at all. But I like watching them. And I much prefer the idea of watching them at my own leisure. Complex shows like Fringe are improved by being taken out of the weekly time slot and instead watched back-to-back as quickly as possible. So the parent companies of Hulu may be doing us viewers a favor by completely removing the option of watching a show as it develops. We just get to hear second-hand how good or bad a show progresses, and then we vote with our dollars on the box set six months later.
Or rent it from Netflix. Or borrow it from a friend. Or, dare I say, acquire it through other means. And the prevalence of “other means” will definitely escalate if Hulu’s model does change. Expect an even bigger war on piracy within a year of the model change. It might be enough to just make people give up on television content in general.