Hulu, the startup owned by three of the four major broadcast networks, is launching a multiscreen subscription service for $9.99 per month -- available not only on the Web but also on HDTVs and mobile devices -- in a move that could erode pay-TV offerings from cable and satellite operators.
After months of speculation, Hulu on Tuesday announced "Hulu Plus," which will offer subscribers access to every episode from more than 30 broadcast TV shows' current seasons and archive content from hundreds of older shows. The service will be accessible via the Web, Samsung's broadband-connected TVs and Blu-ray players, and Apple's iPad and iPhone devices, with more devices in development.
In addition, Hulu Plus subscribers will be able to access all native
HD content in 720p high-definition format.
"It's a treasure chest in the cloud for TV lovers," Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wrote in a blog
posting announcing the service.
Executives of Hulu and its parent companies -- Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and News Corp. -- have been suggesting the site would introduce a subscription service for the past year.
Shows available through Hulu Plus include Fox's Family Guy, House
and Glee, NBC's The Office, 30 Rock, Parks
& Recreation, Parenthood and Saturday Night Live,
and ABC's Modern Family, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate
Initially, Hulu will run a closed beta test of Hulu Plus. The company will offer invitations to try to service over the next few months to a random selection of users who have expressed interest, Kilar said. "We'll be sending out as many invitations as we can each week, and as soon as we're ready, we'll remove the need for an invitation and start bringing in new subscribers without delay."
Looking to allay fears that Hulu's free content is going behind a pay wall, Kilar noted, "Hulu Plus is not a replacement for Hulu.com." Rather, he said, "Hulu Plus is a new, revolutionary ad-supported subscription product that is incremental and complementary to the existing Hulu service."
The Hulu Plus package also includes back seasons or full runs of other shows, including every episode ever of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives; all nine seasons of The X-Files; all three seasons of Arrested Development; 10 seasons of Law and Order: SVU; all five seasons of Ally McBeal; and seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, according to Kilar. Other content includes classic skits from the first five and five most recent seasons of Saturday Night Live.
The Hulu Plus service will be accessible from select Samsung Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players, through an app available in the Samsung app store, as well as from Apple's iPad, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and third-generation iPod Touch. The Hulu Plus app on the iPhone streams video over 3G and Wi-Fi.
In the future, Hulu Plus will be available on other devices and platforms, with Sony's PlayStation 3 "coming soon," Kilar added. According to Hulu's Web site, access through Sony and Vizio TVs and Blu-ray players is slated for fall 2010, while Microsoft's Xbox 360 will follow in early 2011.
"Is our work done? Not even close," Kilar wrote. "There are more shows to license, more countries to expand into, and more product features to build. And we will."