Hulu Plus is Putting The Brakes on Free TV

You may have heard from various sources this week that Hulu is going to start charging a monthly fee to access some of their premium content. We knew this was coming eventually, but now that it has been officially announced it has people talking. Hulu has been a staple for those who wanted to ditch their expensive cable or satellite bill, but it looks like the free ride could be coming to an end.

Hulu Plus costs $9.99/month and is supposed to open up a lot of older content for past seasons of popular TV shows. Hulu already offers the trailing five episodes of current shows, but now if you want to go back even further you can if you buy a Hulu Plus subscription.

From the Hulu blog:

As a Hulu Plus subscriber, you’ll now also have access to back seasons or full runs of some of TV’s greatest shows. All nine seasons of The X-Files. All three seasons of Arrested Development. Ten seasons of Law and Order: SVU. All five seasons of Ally McBeal. Seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and three seasons of Roswell. Every episode ever of Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. Classic skits from the first five and most recent five seasons of Saturday Night Live. The list goes on. This is all on top of hundreds of shows already on Hulu.com today. It’s a treasure chest in the cloud for TV lovers.

If you’re a big fan of some of these shows and want access to old seasons you may have missed or forgot about, that is probably a pretty good value. Of course, you can already do this with a subscription to Netflix or possibly even via on demand features with your cable provider, but with the new Hulu Plus you have many more places to watch your content. No longer are you bound to your computer. Fire up that new iPhone and catch a show on the go or even use that new Blu Ray player to stream the content right to your TV.

Is Hulu Plus Worth It?

This is the big question. Is it worth paying another $10 a month just to have access to more TV content? I guess that all depends on your TV usage. I don’t see that many people rushing out for a subscription just to watch past seasons of the shows they’ve already seen, but maybe that’s just me. I suppose if you can get by without a cable or satellite TV subscription and rely on something like Netflix and Hulu combined for all your viewing needs it would be a pretty decent savings.

Personally, as much as I love Hulu, I don’t see any need in subscribing to the Plus service. Sure, it would be nice to fire up an old favorite episode of Family Guy any time I want, but that alone isn’t enough to make me want to spend an extra 10 bucks a month. For me, having cable with on demand, Netflix, and a TV card in my computer operating as another DVR I already have access to more TV than I could ever use, so I’ll just sit this one out.

The Future of Free TV

Even though this simple $10 subscription is just a small addition to the otherwise large free TV universe, I’m afraid it’s just the first of many steps that will be taken in coming years to lock down free TV to a point where you’ll almost have to buy a subscription to something just to watch what you want. It’s only $10 now for old content, but before long I assume you’ll have to pay a little more to get the newest episodes. Then if you want to watch live sports you’ll have to pay for another package, and movies will of course be yet another. Will streaming TV from the web ever be the same?

It will likely end up just like cable is today and by the time you pay for everything you want to watch, the way you want to watch it, you’ll be dropping $40 or $50 a month just to get your TV content online. Hopefully I’m wrong, but that seems like the only logical progression as more people want to watch their TV online and anywhere.

So, what do you think? Will you be signing up for Hulu Plus? Do you think this is just the beginning of a slippery slope where we have to start paying for even more online content separately?

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

10 comments
Big-D
Big-D

I have been looking at a while to kill my cable the way I have it now. I have never considered Hulu as a viable alternative as you need to get it to a TV. I am getting more to the point of just waiting until summer and purchasing the DVD sets. Sure you are behind, but I am not sitting at the TV for hour on end w/ commercials. DVR only get rid of the symptom - So why pay for the DVR, HDTV service, and cable. I can get the episodes I want on the seasons (SANS 1 show) on DVD. I can live without Mythbusters if I don't have cable. I love the show - but since they don't put it on DVD .. guess they don't want to hit their core audience.

Ron Ablang
Ron Ablang

I like Hulu but it won't affect me at all. I am able to access my favorite shows anyway using the underground to download the episodes I want to watch.

If I had wanted to watch classic TV episodes, I would probably just join Netflix and get them on DVD.

Jeremy
Jeremy

That's a good point I didn't address, Slave. And it's true. In addition, you need high speed internet access (at least if you want to watch it on something other than your phone), which in most cases is already costing you probably anywhere from $40-$60/month. Once you start taking on $10 a month here, $5 a month there, and whatever else for all these new ala carte services I'm not sure the savings will be all that great.

That still doesn't mean cable is the better deal and they shouldn't have competition, but getting TV from the web is still in its infancy, and it won't be free as companies need to make money to support the infrastructure and provide the content. Maybe it's just me, but I have a gut feeling that down the road it's just going to end up being the same content still costing way too much, only delivered in a different way.

Coding Slave
Coding Slave

One important point that you are missing is that online services need an internet connection. With cable, I get the guarantee that I can watch my subscribed channels all the time without problems. With Hulu, I'm at the mercy of my ISP. If they decide to throttle my network, I can't have TV. I frequently notice significant network slowdown if I'm watching online shows for more than an hour or two. Unless Hulu can form a tie-up with a network company to guarantee minimum quality, it will be the victim of its own success.

Credit Girl
Credit Girl

Well I'd like to think it's worth it but honestly, who needs to watch that much TV anyway? Watching TV keeps me from being productive so maybe limited HULU is better for me personally.

But I totally agree with GC. If there's gonna be anyone who can take down cable and satellite companies, it's HULU.

graphic art
graphic art

The users will decide whether or not Hulu Plus is worth the cash, so we’re taking a poll. We want to know if you plan on subscribing to Hulu Plus when it opens to the public.

gc
gc

I just hope more companies like Hulu come along and take the cable and satellite companies down a peg. They have been setting the prices for too long. Competition is king.

jmb
jmb

They released a "free" iphone app that costs $9.99/mo
Jaded comments of people on the app store all say; why should i pay when i get it free on my pc
oooops! not for long
They seem to want to double dip though, charging for advertising and chqarging the consumer, that's bad business.

Alan S
Alan S

This could provide savings in the end. If Internet TV provides ala carte access that is cheaper than what I am paying now, I'm all for that. It could force other cable and media outlets to offer ala carte or lose customers.

Shawn
Shawn

I think you may be missing the point. Most people don't have free television - they receive those "basic" stations in a package from their cable provider. This is the beginning of something far cheaper than cable or satellite. My feeling is that this will finally lead us to an ala carte cable model. $10 gets you the basic channels, $.99 more gets you Food network, $15 gets you all the ESPN channels.

Those numbers actually come from a focus group I was part of about six months ago.