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Charging for Hulu: Will I Pay to Watch The Office at 2:30AM?

October 23, 2009

A couple days ago News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey said at Broadcast & Cable’s OnScreen Media Summit that in 2010 the company will probably start charging for content on Hulu, most people’s favorite site for viewing broadcast shows online.  As one can imagine, this has caused quite a stir, as does everything that was formerly free when people have to start paying for it.

For people who don’t have cable or satellite—and no DVR—online viewing is the only convenient way to time-shift TV watching.  (Taping a show on a VCR does not count as convenient.)  Besides watching shows on network websites (Fox On Demand, Comedy Central, NBC, etc.), show-aggregator sites like Hulu and Fancast serve as the major venue for online viewing.  If you’ve got a computer with an HDMI out, a TV with an HDMI in, and access to the internet, you’ve got last Thursday’s FlashForward on a big screen with a great picture but now it’s showing at 3:17a while you’re drunk cramming a Nacho Crunch Burrito into your dip-hole.  (Because you were hammered, you won’t remember what happened and you’ll have to watch it again, which you can do anytime you want because of sites like Hulu.)

The best thing about these sites is that they are free.  You have to sit through some Blackberry or Epson ads, but the commercials are far less frequent and much shorter than the ads that run during the show’s actual broadcast slot.  A small price to pay.  This may not be the case much longer.

The aforementioned Chairman Carey says “It’s time to start getting paid for broadcast content online.” He continues, ““I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value…Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.” Mr. Carey, most viewers already appreciate the value of online viewing without paying for it.  If the free model, supported only by advertising, simply isn’t working, then by all means, try something different and see if it flies.  But don’t act like you’re doing us a favor or teaching us a lesson in economics by charging for something we now get gratis.  We don’t necessarily disagree with you, at least not on all points.  We just don’t like condescension.

Broadcast, analog programming didn’t cost anything because companies didn’t own the actual airwaves—they made money through ad revenue.  Cable and satellite services charge for the delivery method, and for bundled and tiered services.  We get that.  But will we pay, and how much if so, for online broadcast programming (for the most part) that we can get free just by turning on the TV?  We’re already paying for the delivery method: high-speed internet, so perhaps News Corp. is betting we’ll pay a little bit more for the convenience of time-shifted, always-available, pause-any-time viewing.  Next year, we’ll see if they’re right.

One Comment
  1. October 23, 2009 2:31 pm

    The problem will be that you will still be able to find that content online free of charge (on network sites, etc.) And no, I won’t pay to see something that I could have seen for free if I had been home Thursday night. I’ll start paying for DVR before I “subscribe” to an internet service to watch streaming video.

    Just sayin’

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