Hulu is taking a final step away from its roots in free content and embracing a future that's all about paid subscriptions.
After rolling out its first subscription service in November 2010 — and adding an ad-free premium subscription service last year — Hulu is phasing out its free service, which has allowed people to watch, at no cost, the five most recent episodes of many ABC, NBC, and Fox shows, eight days after they've aired on TV.
The digital video service launched in 2008, offering free, ad-supported shows from its parent companies, NBC Universal and Fox, with Disney coming on as a joint-owner the following year.
Hulu had already been moving in this direction; it's been encouraging visitors to sign up for a free trial, and making it harder to find those free videos. The company has roughly 12 million paying subscribers, and it says the number of people watching free content on its site is minimal. But Monday's move is still notable, in that it shows Hulu's media giant parents — Disney, Fox, Comcast and most recently Time Warner — pushing to focus on subscribers.
They're looking to maintain the dual revenue stream business they have counted on for years in the combination of subscriber fees and advertising from broadcast and cable TV. And they're gearing up to launch Hulu's live TV service in 2017, which will be a next-generation TV bundle, cutting out the middleman and allowing the media companies to go straight to consumers.