In a move that could stem the tide of cord-cutting while also broadening Hulu’s subscriber base, the streaming video service is reportedly in talks with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and others to bring Hulu to cable customers through their set-top boxes.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the discussions are in the early stages but the idea is generally that cable customers would be able to get a bundle that includes Hulu Plus membership, and that the Hulu library would be accessed not through a computer or gaming console but through the customer’s cable box.
The Journal also reports that Hulu is talking to AT&T about a wireless bundle that would include Hulu Plus.
A Hulu/cable deal would seem to make sense for all parties. Cable companies, which in most cases are also providing the broadband access to residential subscribers, may be able to convince people from cutting the cord completely by offering a bundle that gives subscribers access to the HuluPlus library on their TVs, especially if it can be done in a way that minimizes any of the hiccups many consumers associate with streaming video. Hulu benefits by opening up its potential subscriber base to consumers who don’t want to hook up a second or third device to their TV or who find it an annoyance to switch between devices.
And since Hulu’s owners — FOX, Disney, Comcast — are also major network and cable broadcasters, they may benefit by giving subscribers an easy way to catch up on serialized programming. This so-called “Netflix effect” has been seen on numerous shows, like Breaking Bad and Vampire Diaries, where viewership increased as seasons progressed because viewers were able to quickly binge-watch previous seasons and get up to speed.
The Journal says that Hulu’s pitch to the networks is that it become the primary repository for their online archives, rather than the fragmented approach currently being used. That may be problematic, given the amount of time and money these companies have invested in their own streaming services and applications (most of which are horrid).
There is also the question of whether or not Hulu can outbid competitors like Netlfix and Amazon. Most network content is not owned by the network, but merely licensed, with the producing studio often controlling the secondary rights for streaming and syndication. One industry insider recently said that Netflix is becoming the preferred route for syndicating TV content and that the licensing money from the streaming service is “pure heroin” to TV studios desperate to see a return on investment.