When Hulu was founded in 2006, it bore little resemblance to what it has since become. The service, a joint venture of Hollywood studios Disney, Fox and NBC Universal, was originally pitched as a “YouTube Killer,” meant to produce a new digital distribution arm, mostly for network TV shows. Hulu’s official launch the following year came at a time before cord-cutting, with streaming in its infancy and Roku and Apple TV both a couple of years away. Also? When Hulu launched, it was free.
Now, much has changed. Hulu, like its competitors, is a subscription service that streams on various devices, including televisions. The company is competing more with Netflix and Amazon Video than YouTube. And Hulu offers a great deal of original programming, including The Mindy Project, Difficult People, and 11/22/1963 and access to the Criterion Collection (as well as exclusive streaming rights to such popular shows as Seinfeld). And now, Hulu is eliminating one of the last vestiges of its original business model.
Hulu is eliminating its free, ad-supported tier, moving to a full, all-subscription model, as reported by Variety. In addition, Hulu has extended and expanded its deal with Yahoo. Yahoo, which dropped its Yahoo Screen service earlier this year and recently sold its core business to Verizon, is launching Yahoo View, which essentially uses Hulu’s old model: The five most recent episodes of NBC, ABC and Fox TV series, debuting eight days after their original airdate.
According to a statement from Hulu senior VP and head of experience Ben Smith:
For the past couple years, we’ve been focused on building a subscription service that provides the deepest, most personalized content experience possible to our viewers.. as we have continued to enhance that offering with new originals, exclusive acquisitions, and movies, the free service became very limited and no longer aligned with the Hulu experience or content strategy.
The entirety of Hulu was free and ad-supported until a subscription model, called “Hulu Plus,” was launched in 2010; the “Plus” was dropped from the name five years later, indicating that the company was focused on its subscription service. Getting rid of the free tier is probably a move that makes sense; it’s not clear how many people were using it, and many had probably assumed that it had been done away with already.
The challenge for Hulu remains finding a way to keep up with Netflix and Amazon, especially on the original programming side. Sure, Hulu has produced a lot of stuff to be proud of. But whether it’s buzz or awards success, the service is pretty clearly behind its two competitors, as of now.