Hulu Trying to Keep Up With Netflix?

Hulu’s CEO announced this week that the company is in discussions with pay TV providers to add Hulu Plus to their set-top boxes. This announcement came about a week after Netflix announced that it will be available as a channel on three small cable providers’ Ti-Vo set-top boxes.

In fact, this was not the only announcement Hulu made this week. For one, Hulu Plus just passed 6 million subscribers. Not a lot compared to the 35.7 million that subscribe to Netflix, but still not bad.

Hulu also announced that starting this summer, mobile device users will be able to watch select Hulu programming for free from their devices without a Hulu Plus subscription. A next generation version of Hulu Plus for the iPhone is also reportedly on tap for late summer.

And, finally, Hulu is working on a new feature that allows users to purchase things they see in ads without leaving Hulu. Pizza Hut is reportedly going to be the launch partner; Hulu is tying right into Pizza Hut’s online ordering system.

So, while Netflix (with the interconnection deals with Comcast and Verizon) has been getting all the attention lately, Hulu is quietly improving its features. It will be interesting to see what Amazon Prime comes up with next in the head-to-head battle for streaming TV.

Hulu Sale Postponed—For Now?

The joint owners of Internet TV service Hulu—21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Co.—announced that they would retain their ownership positions in the company and invest an additional $750 million to grow the business.

However, shortly after the release of that announcement, a Bloomberg report indicates that the owners are “continuing talks to sell a stake in the video-streaming service to Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC).”

Hulu had been on the market for approximately six months. DirecTV, AT&T and Chernin Group (jointly), and TWC have been the past three suitors for Hulu. But while Hulu’s owners had hoped to receive $2 billion for the company, no bids above $1 billion have been extended.

The Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal indicated that they intend to move Hulu more toward a subscription video-on-demand service, in order to better compete with Netflix.

According to the source for the Bloomburg article, there is no definite time horizon on when a deal might be reached.

Yahoo Joins Long List of Bidders for Hulu

Joining at least seven other companies in the bidding, Silicon Valley giant Yahoo has reportedly submitted a bid for video site Hulu. Other bidders include DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. Hulu, which is currently jointly owned by News Corp., Disney and Comcast, has both a subscription and an advertising business.

While the deal is an effort to boost Yahoo’s video offerings, the company already has a respectable amount of exclusive video content. For example, comedian Jack Black is producing a Web series that debuted on Yahoo Screen in March. So, while Google has YouTube and Amazon has Amazon Instant Video, Yahoo is not far behind.

Yahoo has reportedly offered multiple amounts for Hulu, from $600 to $800 million. That price range is tied to the length of the licensing rights for content available on Hulu. Assuming that the licensing issue can be resolved, the big question for Yahoo is Hulu’s place in the market, where consumers already have access to TV Everywhere and Netflix. Read more

Hulu Making Alterations

In a move that will protect broadcast network content, Hulu appears headed toward an authentication-style service, migrating away from from its present ad-supported model. A second move in the form of a buy out appears intent on tightening control over content.

On April 26, owners Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Comcast announced that they are near a deal with Providence Equity Partners to buy out the investment company, according to articles in the New York Post and several online blogs. The industry views this as a precursor to a fundamental change in Hulu’s current open business plan.

Providence invested $100 million for its 10% share of Hulu in 2007. According to an April 26 Bloomberg article, the buyout will earn Providence $200 million. The article indicates that Comcast has not been party to the buyout discussions under terms applied to the Comcast-NBC Universal merger in 2010. Read more

Boxee Adds Local Ability

Intent on drawing the video cord-cutting crowd to the Boxee solution, Boxee today introduced a new add-on that helps keep viewers in the Boxee box.

The new “wrinkle” is a dongle that attaches to the Boxee via USB and provides a coaxial connection to an antenna or pay-TV device.  The live dongle will allow a user to integrate local broadcast signals or content from cable, satellite or telco into the Boxee experience.

According to Boxee, the majority of highly rated television programs originate on “free,” over-the-air broadcast channels.  For many viewers, the all-in-one approach of Boxee integrating OTT content like Hulu and Netflix along with the over-the-air signals creates a compelling alternative to pay-TV.

Not For Sale: Hulu

The Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Providence Equity Partners said in a prepared statement, “Since Hulu holds a unique and compelling strategic value to each of its owners, we have terminated the sale process and look forward to working together to continue mapping out its path to even greater success. Our focus now rests on ensuring that our efforts as owners contribute in a meaningful way to the exciting future that lies ahead for Hulu.”

Recent stories and analysis of the “auction” for Hulu pointed out that given the low bids received, combined with the likelihood of Hulu growing into a more robust subscription service, it could suggest that keeping Hulu and Hulu Plus may be the better solution. Certainly once the million subscriber benchmark was crossed, it seemed that the better strategy would be for the current owners to maintain control of Hulu.

Dish Network, Google and Amazon provided bids for the service, with Google submitting the greatest dollar amount but tying its offer to several conditions. Dish Network appeared to have the inside track to gaining Hulu with the next highest bid. The owners and experts both seemed surprised at the low dollar amounts bid. Indications were that the winner might be getting the Hulu service and content for approximately $2 billion.

The owners are going to keep it and maintain control of the “next day” distribution of ABC, NBC and Fox programming. Had the sale gone forward, relinquishing control of the content might have been a crippling error.

Update: Hulu Bids

If the list of bidders in the proposed sale of Hulu are Google, Yahoo, Dish Network and Amazon, which company would you likely pick to have made the highest bid? If you selected Google you’d be correct, although there is a “but” after the price pledged. Google has placed conditions on the bid that may make it less attractive than the next largest bid. Read more

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