Is There a Fight Brewing Over Hulu's Business Model?

Last Updated Oct 23, 2009 12:36 PM EDT

News Corp. is at it again -- saying that at some point the professional video site Hulu will change to a paid model with some free content. The most recent instance came at Broadcasting & Cable's OnScreen Media Summit this week, where COO Chase Carey, who also hinted at a paid model at a conference last month , talked it up again. But the way Carey's remarks played out this time indicates that there's disagreement among Hulu's partners -- which also include NBC Universal and Disney ABC -- over what Hulu's business model should be going forward. Right now, it is 100 percent advertiser-supported.

Here's the skinny: A story on B&C's Web site says Carey "hopes that it will move to a subscription model," While Entertainment Weekly said Carey firmly stated the site would start charging in 2010. Whatever really happened, it was enough for a Hulu spokesperson to speak up -- which hasn't happened in the past over this issue -- pouring cold water on the paid idea, at least for now:
Hulu's mission has always been to help people find and enjoy the world's premium, professionally produced content. We continue to believe that the ad-supported free service is the one that resonates with the largest group of users and any possible new business models would serve to complement our existing offering. There are no details or timelines to share regarding our future product roadmap.
Carey isn't the only News Corp. exec who has been speaking publicly about bringing a paid model to Hulu. Chief digital officer Jon Miller has been vociferous about it too, most recently at a conference I work on, Mediapost's OMMA Global. During Q&A, I asked Miller what how the site could convert subscribers to paid. He said it would have to be some sort of value-add to get them to pay. Meanwhile, while News Corp. floats paid scenarios, NBC Universal and Disney ABC have been missing in action on the paid Hulu debate. This promises to get interesting.