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The latest in a line of reports stretching back several months about Hulu’s plans to try a subscription service comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that tests could start by the end of June for the so-called Hulu Plus service reportedly priced at $9.99 a month. Notice all the qualifiers there? It leaves room for anything to be right. That’s close to the only way to write about this until Hulu commits to a launch or actually launches — and the track record there suggests that won’t happen until CEO Jason Kilar thinks the service is ready to go public even in beta. [Peter Kafka also posted on Hulu’s near-term sub plans last night.]
One executive familiar with Hulu’s efforts to aggregate programming for the subscription service told me that timetable might be too ambitious but to expect something this summer. That price could include access to an iPad app or other devices. Competitor Netflix’s basic $9 package already includes unlimited streaming instantly on PCs, Macs or internet-connected Netflix-ready devices — and subscription access through the iPad.
The oddly worded article suggests that somehow this is new for Hulu and its owners: “The service, which is being referred to as Hulu Plus, marks the Web venture’s first effort to address the shifting Web strategies of its three big-media owners, General Electric (NYSE: GE) Co.’s NBC Universal, News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). and Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) Co.”
But as we have reported, premium content has been part of the planned model since the video portal/network’s beginning and various subscription options have been under consideration for close to a year (if not longer). When subscription testing kicks in — a fizzled report had it in beta last fall — it will be the first paid service, but not the first effort to look at changing strategies or subscription potential.
Another industry exec I spoke with recently called the subscription plans an effort for no-longer-novel Hulu to stay relevant by expanding reach and programming. Is Hulu behind the curve already when it comes to subscriptions? The decision not to jump in immediately left Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) more time to grow its own share by increasing access across platforms and devices. The decision to block efforts by Boxee and some others to port browser-based Hulu to TV sets may have protected content partners but it also made Hulu appear to be a kind of anti-Netflix channeling access instead of going wider across platforms. But Netflix is still small enough to leave room for other services and Hulu has shown that it can innovate and capture audience.
And it still looks like it will beat Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) to a subscription video service. Then again, Steve Jobs, Disney’s largest individual shareholder, should benefit either way.