Streaming video news part one: Hulu to the iPad?

There have been a few interesting developments in streaming video this week, all of which should have long-term implications for the television industry. I’m hoping to write about all three over the next day or so.

First up: Rumors are swirling that Hulu could come to the iPad. But will we have to pay?


All Things Digital is reporting that Hulu is likely for the iPad, but it will most likely include some form of charge. This plays right into the rumblings that Hulu and its partners — NBCU, FOX and Disney (ABC) — want to create a premium service, which if moving to the iPad is included, would make sense.

Though Hulu has provided free content so far, a tiered system feels almost certain and one way to convince people to pay for Hulu is moving it across screens or platforms:

“One idea the company and its backers like: Turning Hulu from a ‘one screen’ service — one you’re only supposed to watch on your computer — to a “three screen” offering, by adding support for TVs and mobile devices.
‘Just three screens alone is pretty enticing,’ for consumers, says an executive at one of Hulu’s parent companies.”

So the question then becomes how/what to get people to pay for. Paying per episode is too similar to iTunes and doesn’t offer any incentive to try something new for viewers. A subscription might work, but perhaps a high-ish cost for the application download itself makes the most sense. It’s a one-time cost, but certainly worth it. I know that I’d pay anywhere between $20-$40 to have full-time access to Hulu on a device like the iPad.

Just a few weeks ago, I noted that the lack of flash video would keep the iPad from having any massive influence on the television world, and though the flash-embargo stands, there are stories circulating about that while Apple won’t include it on the iPad, there are ways application developers can implement something similar.

However, there are other issues to consider with the move to the iPad, most notably licensing fees. Hulu would have to go to the networks and production companies and re-negotiate the fees and terms for use on a “mobile device,” because that’s all different than the terms for computer use. And with the iPad being able to use Wi-Fi (thus making it computer-like) and 3G (thus making it phone-like), there’s a slew of moving parts involved.

If (and it still feels like a big if to me) this happens, it won’t be on-time for the iPad launch.

Nevertheless, I think Hulu’s move to the iPad could actually convince people that it’s okay to pay for Hulu’s service. The interface is fantastic, it’s a recognized brand and if the terms can be worked out and the same type of content is available, paying for an application will be worth it to people who love television and love the iPad. With an up-front fee and the usual advertising, Hulu then becomes a bit more of a traditional medium, and at this point, that’s probably what both the television and advertising industries are looking for.


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