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Summary:

Will NBC push Hulu to go pay only? The broadcaster’s chief executive alluded to this option today in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying that keeping TV shows free online is not “a foregone conclusion.” Zucker also expressed optimism about the Comcast merger review.

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NBC could eventually start charging for online streams of its TV shows, according to CEO Jeff Zucker in an extensive interview published by The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). One of the first issues brought up was the question of how much content should be available for free online, to which Zucker responded by lamenting that broadcasters can’t make money by running repeats of existing content on their networks anymore, adding:

“We have to figure out how we are going to pay for this quality content… I do not think that it is a foregone conclusion that content should be free on the Internet.”

It’s worth noting that NBC Universal does not only offer full episodes of its shows on its own site for free, but that the company also owns 32 percent of Hulu. NBC Universal announced a joint venture with Comcast last December, to merge with the cable company’s programming assets — a deal that is currently under review by the FCC. Hulu’s fate as well as Comcast’s plans for Internet TV have been one of the key issues at the center of this review process, a fact that Zucker acknowledged in the interview by saying that there is “a lot of interest” in online video.

However, he also seemed to warn of putting too many restrictions on the way the merged entity is going to handle these issues, calling online TV “such a nascent business,” and something that everyone was still figuring out. Zucker expressed confidence that the government would be aware of this as well.

That’s not exactly how others have viewed the deal. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, recently demanded that NBC Universal sell its stake in Hulu as a condition for the merger to go through.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Scoble.

Related content on GigaOm Pro (sub req’d): A Closer Look at Comcast’s NBC Universal Acquisition

  1. Why wouldn’t a “freemium” business model work:

    Watch a limited amount of TV programs on a crappy computer screen, OR upgrade to some pro version of web-based streaming that opens up the episode catalog AND lets you rent a streaming box at no more than $5/mo that lets you hook it up to your TV.

    It just has to be financially lucrative enough to pull people away from cable or satellite TV.

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    1. A “freemium” model doesn’t work in the real world. A show is a show, whether it’s a thumbnail or a big screen. In reality, there is no difference between 240×160 & 1920×1080. The only difference right now between internet and TV that I see as relevant is boiled down to “choice”. And that is ruled by supply and demand– not inter-office politics at network (i.e. Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno). The general public has no control over what network execs allow through the pipeline.

      The success of most recent online shows are because of discovered fans. The subjects and substance within these successful shows are what was in demand. Not the high quality video or the creators’ business models. The HD quality is just a bonus that wouldn’t exist or last without those fans that made the show successful in the first place. In other words, if the web shows started charging for premium quality the masses would probably not pay for it.

      And that brings me back to your Utopian “freemium” model. The high quality film/4k cameras and the pros to run them are not working within a “freemium” system. That means NBC still has to pay the cast and crew their union rates along with p&h, regardless if you watch it through a pinhole or through binoculars. It’s a simple fact that Socialism & Communism have never worked, so I doubt “freemium” Utopias have a chance here Ben. But nice try though.

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  2. Doesn’t Hulu come with ads already? This sounds more like Zucker trying to figure out how to squeeze every possible penny – not surprising, considering that he did for NBC what ice did for the Titanic, and even less so when considering that they want to buddy up to Comcast. Nevertheless, if he thinks people will happily pay again to watch online exactly what they get on TV – free at the point of reception, at that – well, he deserves whatever he gets. If it’s revenue he wants, maybe he should consider moving to programming that doesn’t suck out loud…

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    1. “considering that he did for NBC what ice did for the Titanic”

      Yes, but he did get even with Conan O’Brien for that Harvard prank.

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  3. [...] CEO, Jeff Zucker, says in an interview that online TV shows will not always be free for [...]

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  4. [...] Zucker: No Guarantee Online TV Will Stay Free NBC could eventually start charging for online streams of its TV shows, according to CEO Jeff Zucker in an extensive interview published by The Wall Street Journal. One of the first issues brought up was the question of how much content should be available for free online, to which Zucker responded by lamenting that broadcasters can’t make money by running repeats of existing content on their networks anymore, adding: “We have to figure out how we are going to pay for this quality content… I do not think that it is a foregone conclusion that content should be free on the Internet.” It’s worth noting that NBC Universal does not only offer full episodes of its shows on its own site for free, but that the company also owns 32 percent of Hulu. NBC Universal announced a joint venture with Comcast last December, to merge with the cable company’s programming assets — a deal that is currently under review by the FCC. Excerpt from NewTeeVee.com. Read the full article here. [...]

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  5. Hah “considering that he did for NBC what ice did for the Titanic” That’s a great line and so true. Look at the background of the picture above. I guess he’s advising the World Economic Forum. I feel better now! Well the future of TV is via the internet and whatever people want there will be a directory to help them find it and rate it. That may mean that Zucker’s NBC won’t be in the top line up or at least they will continue to have competition.

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  6. [...] symphoning ratings from on-air shows, Hulu partner NBC is warning consumers free TV online is not guaranteed, even though broadcast television has been “free” for most of its history, subsidized [...]

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