More paywalls: Hulu monthly fees & YouTube rentals

For quite some time there have been rumors of Hulu putting some kind of paid subscription system into place. We talked about it a bit last December. If a (non-sourced) article at the LA Times is to believed, those plans are starting to firm up.

The LA Times says the fee will be $5/month, and it'll cover older content. If you keep up with your favorite shows you'll be able to continue to watch for free, but anything older than the most recent five episodes will be behind a paywall. That $5 is an 'all you can eat' price and Hulu won't put the system into place until it was about 20 shows to offer in this way.

If these figures are truth, it'll be interesting to see how Hulu competes with Netflix's $9/month membership. With Netflix you don't get new programs (a general rule of thumb is that it won't be on Netflix until its on DVD) but you get a lot more options and that price comes with a one-disk-at-a-time rental service as well. Keeping up with new shows on Hulu (watching them while in their free window) and paying $9 for a range of old stuff sounds like a better deal to me. Plus for many households (Xbox 360, PS3 and soon, Nintendo Wii owners) getting Netflix streaming to the living room TV is a snap. Hulu does what it can to prevent you from doing that.

Meanwhile over at YouTube, paid movie rentals arrive today. According to Wired, five films from the Sundance 2009 & 2010 festivals (Bass Ackwards, Children of Invention, Homewrecker, One Too Many Mornings, and The Cove) will be available for rent later today. The price will vary: Wired gives an example price of $4 for The Cove and One Too Many Mornings. Google plans to add more paid content to YouTube in the coming months.

Adding this news to the NY Times paid content story from yesterday one starts to wonder if the era of free internet content is drawing to the close. Did you know Pandora charges 99 cents/month to users who tune in for more than 40 hours/month (according to the LA Times article linked above)? I had no idea. And I wonder how many users create second accounts in order to avoid shelling out a buck a month?

What do you think? Are we at the end of our free ride, or are these all just paid content experiments that are doomed to fail? Would you pay $5/month for a Hulu subscription? What about $4 to watch a movie on YouTube? I can't comment on the former; I don't really use free Hulu very much so I certainly wouldn't pay. But YouTube? No way; the performance isn't there, at least not at my house during the evenings. Google would have to beef up their infrastructure before I'd pay for that content.

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