Is Hulu Headed for Self-Destruction?

When you see something amazing — be it a service or product — headed for what seems like a dire implosion, it is difficult, if not impossible, to feel just a little mournful for that which we held in such high esteem. It could be a restaurant changing ownership, a television changing format, or what has been happening to Hulu lately:

Hulu management has discussed recasting Hulu as an online cable operator that would use the Web to send live TV channels and video-on-demand content to subscribers, say people familiar with the talks. The new service, which is still under discussion, would mimic the bundles of channels now sold by cable and satellite operators, the people said.

If this is going to be the future of Hulu, then what will be the point of it all? My understanding of Hulu as it has existed up until now was that it offered the following as far as a service goes : the ability to choose what television program you want to watch and to watch the programs you want whenever you want to watch them without paying a subscription fee and with limited commercial interruption.

When Hulu started, it was a tremendous blessing to those of us who did not have the luxury of a DVR or the ability to watch television shows when broadcasters thought that their core audience would be sitting in front of the television. We knew that if we wanted to be watching ER in our underwear at two in the morning in front of the computer, we could do that. If we wanted to catch an older episode of 30 Rock at our leisure, it was not going to be a problem.

At first, there weren’t even really any ads to speak of — those were added later. That wasn’t a problem. We knew that someone had to pay for the content on Hulu, and if that meant sitting through a couple of thirty second advertisements for hamburgers, so be it.

The first problem came when Hulu Plus was announced. I though that if I was going to pay a monthly fee, it would meant that I would no longer see advertisements. Rather, we were informed that Hulu Plus meant that we would still see advertisement, but that we would have the choices of a few older shows plus we would be able to use Hulu on our iPhone or IPad. I’m not sure why they thought that would be worth charging a monthly fee but apparently they felt that way because they started the Hulu Plus program, even without my blessing.

There was one conciliatory note from the article:

Hulu’s owners are now considering management’s proposal to create a “virtual cable operator,” according to people familiar with the talks. If they decide to move forward, some form of Hulu’s free service would likely remain under such a plan. It is possible Hulu Plus could be folded into the new service, one of the people said.

Unfortunately, we know too well that there is a large difference between that which is likely and that which really is. We can only hope that the Hulu that we know and love will not be entirely snatched away from us.

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