Last week, Time Warner took a ten-percent stake in Hulu, and we speculated that the acquisition could alter the future of the streaming service. We expect that, ultimately, Hulu will operate like a streaming cable service: It will bundle multiple networks to make it easier to stream programming from a variety of places with one service. As Hulu is now owned by many of the big players in television — The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Comcast, and Time Warner — it has staked out a position to be able to offer more cable and broadcast network options than any other service.
This week, the service is taking another step toward becoming the streaming version of cable by dropping its ad-supported, no-cost television, so viewers of shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine will have to pay up if they want to watch their favorites on Hulu.
In the early years of Hulu, the service’s biggest selling point was the ability to watch programming from a variety of networks without having to pay. Viewers could watch NBC, CW, or Fox shows for free if they were willing to suffer through the advertisements. However, as more of the programing went behind a paywall, and as viewers saw the appeal of commercial-free streaming, most viewers eventually ponied up and paid for a subscription. Those who have not yet subscribed will now be forced to if they want to continue watching.
The move should not come as a huge surprise. Hulu has been moving away from the ad-supported model for a while. In recent years, the free, ad-supported content has not only been limited to the five most recent episodes of a particular program, but it’s also become more difficult for viewers to find. It’s now a low-trafficked product, as the 12 million paid subscribers make up the bulk of Hulu’s business.
Viewers who do rely on free, ad-supported content on Hulu will still have that option, however. The free service is being moved to Yahoo View, although it will still be provided through Hulu’s video player. Yahoo View will also continue to offer free episodes from ABC, NBC and FOX, although they will not be available until eight days after the episode airs (content from the CW will no longer be offered, except on Netflix).
Yahoo was recently acquired by Verizon.