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Hulu’s first offering outside the U.S. is live: Hulu Japan, a subscription service with “hundreds” of films and thousands of hours of TV. For ¥1,480 a month or roughly $18.50, Japanese subscribers can watch across an array of devices just like U.S. subscribers of Hulu Plus with one exception — Hulu Japan is ad free. Then again, they are paying more than twice the $8 monthly lug of Hulu Plus in the U.S..
Hulu Japan launches with programming from CBS (NYSE: CBS), NBCUniversal (NSDQ: CMCSA) International Television Distribution, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox (NSDQ: NWS), The Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) Company (Japan) featuring content from Disney/ABC Television Group and The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. (NYSE: TWX) Disney, Fox and NBCU are equity owners in the online video portal.
But the launch version doesn’t offer Japanese programming. Hulu promises to rapidly add more programming, including Japanese-produced content and content from across Asia.
In the launch announcement, Hulu said it has an exclusive mobile marketing partnership NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile carrier, but promised that Hulu Japan subscribers “will be able to use Hulu on any mobile carrier or internet service provider on supported devices” without a long-term contract or subscription commitment.
But there are some device gaps at the start, notably Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Xbox 360 and Blu-Ray players. The only connected TVs at launch are Panasonic Vieras; Sony Bravia is “coming soon” along with Blu-Ray players from Panasonic and Sony.
In the U.S., Hulu.com is free while the subscription service is known as “Hulu Plus.” Each is ad supported. Hulu calls its service “first of its kind” for Japan but also wanted it to stand out among the many entertainment options. Hulu Japan is more like streaming video rival Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) than Hulu U.S. in one respect: TV shows are previous seasons, not current. The slate of current and library shows includes the CSIs, 24, Bones, Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives, Fringe, Grey’s Anatomy, and NCIS. The first month is free.
International head Johannes Larcher explained some of Hulu’s reasoning and its plans on the company blog:
As we’ve done in the U.S., we will rapidly and continually add content to the service. The content lineup will only become more robust over time, including the addition of Japanese-produced content and content from across the Asian region in the near term.
We are equally proud of the user experience that the Hulu team has built for Japanese entertainment fans. We are offering an intuitive and fully localized product available in both Japanese and English, with many of the popular Hulu features from the U.S. incorporated into the experience.
As for expansion, writes Larcher:
We are committed to the success of our efforts in Japan and future international markets. Hulu in Japan is 100% owned and operated, and our growing Japan team has been hard at work building and inventing in our new Tokyo office. We are in Japan for the long term, and excited to continue building our product for Japanese consumers.
As we celebrate the launch of Hulu in Japan, we are conscious that this is just the first of more markets outside of the U.S. for Hulu. We hope that you will stay tuned for more news regarding our journey around the world.
The long-anticipated international expansion comes as Hulu collects bids for a potential sale. While speculation mounted in the U.S. over the possible suitors, believed to include Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), among others, the Hulu team led by CEO Jason Kilar was in Tokyo to launch Hulu Japan. While the move could make Hulu more attractive by showing its potential, it’s also a major investment that will take time to pay off.
Hulu’s running a different pattern from competitor Netflix, which started its expansion by going north to Canada and goes south to Latin America this fall. The next stops are expected to be Spain and the UK in early 2012. Netflix is using the same template as it has for streaming in the U.S. at a cost that is very similar $8-$10 a month.
The emphasis on streaming and the international push for that side of its business led to a change in pricing that starts today as Netflix splits its DVD and streaming, requiring users to pay for each separately rather than a less expensive combined package. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Lovefilm is looking at ways to expand its own streaming service. So far, the only head-to-head competition is in the U.S., with Netlfix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Prime; the latter is included in a $79 annual site membership with shipping benefits, not marketed as a monthly service. Hulu Plus is the only one with current primetime programming.