Published reports to the contrary, I am hearing that nothing is set about online video portal Hulu’s plans to launch in the UK — including what form that presence would take. The Telegraph reported Wednesday that Hulu wants to launch in the UK this September with 3,000 hours of U.S. programming and UK content partners. But I am told by sources familiar with the situation that no such target date has been set. No deals are in place with ITV (LSE: ITV) and Channel 4, although discussions continue with multiple programmers in the UK. According to the Telegraph, off the back of BrandRepublic, the discussions with the two are stuck on who will control advertising.
A joint venture of News Corp (NYSE: NWS). NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and now Disney (NYSE: DIS), Hulu has three ways to deal with international programming (with possible variations on each theme): 1) Bring international to the U.S. service, something that is already underway on a small scale; 2) Make the U.S. service available, or at least part of it, via geotargeting (windowing and advertising could complicate that) and 3) create a new service for each area it enters, the UK, in this case. Much hinges on the crazy quilt of rights sewn together to ensure maximum profit for a TV program or a film: something available in the U.S. might not be shown (legally) in the UK for weeks, months or even years. The same can hold true for something produced in the UK or elsewhere when it comes to viewing in the U.S.
Providing U.S. programming internationally — particularly first-run series — could go a long way toward tamping down piracy, especially if the windowing can be worked out to mesh with original air-dates. But importing American programming isn’t enough; Hulu needs a significant amount of “local” content to succeed as a full service. If ITV, Channel 4 and somehow BBC can be added to the mix, then a Hulu UK makes much more sense. Will it make money for the equity and distribution partners? Different question.