The Coming Commercialization of Hulu


Anonymous sources are saying that Hulu has come to terms with Disney so that it can keep streaming ABC shows on the site. Earlier this week, it came to a deal with News Corp. to keep streaming Fox shows. A company agreeing on something with its owners (Hulu is a joint venture between Disney [ABC], News Corp. [Fox], and Comcast [NBC]) shouldn't be a news story. But for Hulu, a company that's been in the business tabloids since its CEO mildly criticized his masters in February, any news about its future is disproportionately scrutinized.

And right now that future is looking especially commercialized. Which is to say, there are about to be a lot more commercials on Hulu. Both of Hulu's deals are reported to include demands that the service air more ads during its shows. Right now Hulu puts you through about a quarter of the commercial time you sit and/or DVR through at home. It's unclear how much that is going to increase. But since there's such a dearth of ads now, it'll be noticeable.

The lesson for both Hulu and its owners: Be careful what you spawn. Hulu, partly because it launched with so few ads, has been so successful that its creators are worried about it being a freeloader. That's why it started Hulu Plus, its subscription program, and now it's why it might get sold off. The site has hired bankers to either broker a deal or just test the market to see what price it'd fetch. Whether the sale happens or not, Hulu is about to be something far more corporate than when it launched. Which, come to think of it, you could also say about web video in general. Maybe Hulu is just keeping up with the times.