April 23, 2010, 7:45 AM — A Hulu subscription service is in the news again. Every time we hear about this the details seem a little more solid. What we're hearing now is that Hulu will continue to be free for the most recent five episodes of a series. In order to go back farther than that you'll need a $9.95/month Hulu Plus account. Rumor says the subscription service may come as soon as May 24th.
I took a straw poll via Twitter and was surprised to find that people seemed OK with the idea of a Hulu subscription, assuming some conditions were met. This is a big difference from the last time I asked about this, when people were adamantly opposed to paying for Hulu. Maybe this is part of Hulu's strategy? Leak the idea of a subscription service, let people get mad about it, then let the situation cool down. Then leak it again nearer launch and after folks have had time to get used to the idea? If this was deliberate, then kudos to Hulu's marketing team!
Anyway, here's what people want before they pay for Hulu. Keep in mind this was a very unscientific poll, but I think the points are valid.
First, no ads. That's a pretty obvious request. If I can watch for free with ads, then a subscription ought to be ad-free, right? At worst, perhaps one ad before a show starts. There's bad news here, though. Hulu intends to increase the number of ads on the service (both free and paid) to equal the number of ads we see on traditional TV, according to an LA Times article which said: "Ultimately, Hulu is expected to adopt the same commercial loads as network television. "
Second, full seasons. It sounds like this is exactly what Hulu Plus brings to the table, but folk want to be sure before they sign up.
Third, bring back the shows that they've lost (specifically mentioned: The Daily Show) and get all the networks (in particular, CBS) on there. This could be a real challenge for Hulu, but people don't want to pay for a partial TV service.
Fourth, integrate Hulu into our homes. We can all watch Netflix Streaming on our TVs via game consoles, Roku boxes, some blu ray players and the service is even built into some TVs now. In our house we recently ran into the five device limit for Netflix, and that was without really trying. We just happened to end up with more than five devices for getting Netflix onto our TV. Up until now, Hulu has gone out of its way to keep itself off your big screen. That limitation has to be removed before some people are interested in paying for the service. Step one of this, pulling down the obstacles they've installed (deliberately blocking certain devices such as the Playstation 3 web browser, refusing to work with Boxee), would be easy for Hulu. Getting the service onto various hardware platforms would be a greater challenge but I'm sure they have the resources to make it happen, even if that meant piggy-backing on the Roku or upcoming Boxee Box.
Those are the four main issues I heard from my Twitter friends, but it just so happens Retrevo has been asking questions about streaming TV as well. They've done a study on a closely related topic (Is the Internet Killing Cable TV?), in which they asked 1,000 people: "What would it take to get you to watch all your TV shows online?" 20% of the respondents said HD content would lure them away from cable, 19% said premium shows like those on HBO, and 15% said live sports. The study also revealed that 23% of people under 25 are already watching most of their TV online!
So there are some anecdotal findings about what it would take for my friends to pay for Hulu, and some more statistically relevant findings on how people feel about online TV in general. What'd we miss? Have you canceled your cable TV service? If not, what would convince you to? Are you willing to pay for a more complete Hulu experience, and if so, what are your conditions for doing so? Please leave a comment!