We all got a shot of worry last week when a story broke that popular TV/Movie streaming site, Hulu would start charging users for its services, starting in 2010. The dastardly claim originated from the mouth of News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey, who stated that Hulu's current business model - free streaming content supported by ads - was inadequate for companies who truly want to turn a profit from online content. Carey's solution? Charge users membership fees for using Hulu.
As soon as we posted that news, many of you chimed in with an almost universal reaction that basically boiled down to "So long, Hulu, been nice knowing you." Well, either Carey was jumping the gun or the backlash from his statement was big enough to scare the News Corp. bean counters, because Entertainment Weekly is claiming that they have it from a reliable source close to the Hulu camp that users can breathe easy: Hulu won't be trying to dip into your wallet anytime soon.
A source close to Hulu, however, tells EW that the site remains steadfastly committed to free content, explaining that any possible subscription or pay-per-view service has no set timeline and would only build upon what Hulu offers, not replace it.
As EW goes on to surmise, Carey's claims during the Online Media Summit might've been little more than an attempt to "test the waters" and see how people would react to the notion of pay-for-Hulu (wouldn't be the first or even thousandth time THAT'S been done). Well, if they were looking to do a litmus test then they certainly got their answer: don't mess with peoples' Hulu.
Now, as I explained in my previous post on this - I'm not totally opposed to paying for a service like Hulu. The Internet creed (that I've always followed) is "Get a lot for a little." Hulu as it stands now - limited content and such - isn't worth paying for, however, if News Corp. was willing to invest the necessary time and money to expand the capabilities and offerings of the site, I would certainly consider paying a fee to use it; but we are talking some seriously sweet upgrades (see my list of need-to-be-added features to find out how sweet). So, if they do add new features and content, as I said, I will consider paying for a "platinum membership" to enjoy the added Hulu benefits - but for the site's own sake, they better keep that "free" option firmly in place.
For now it looks like we've avoided a catastrophe - but for how long, I wonder? The world-wide corporate media conglomerate is trying to sink its fangs deep into the Internet right now, even going so far as having big-name politicians like John McCain promoting controlled flow of online content. While I know we're all super-busy surfing our email and social media sites, cases like this Hulu business should be on the minds of those of us out here getting our business and/or pleasure from the Internet.
We'll keep one eye on this Hulu situation as it develops. Stay tuned.