Apple is apparently considering a bid for online-streaming service Hulu, according to Bloomberg.
The news service drew that information from two anonymous sources, paraphrasing them as saying the bid was in early talks and "may lead to an offer." Apple tends to be acquisition-shy, but with more than $76 billion cash on hand, it could easily make a play for Hulu, whose price tag Bloomberg and analysis firm SNL Kagan estimated at somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion.
Apple already exerts a heavy gravitational pull on the media world, thanks to its iTunes storefront, but Hulu's streaming television episodes could help the company's long-anticipated move into the cloud-based media services. Of course, that's assuming that Apple makes a definitive play for Hulu, which offers both free, ad-supported video and a monthly premium subscription service.
In theory, Apple could integrate Hulu into its Apple TV franchise, giving it a boost in the competition against Google TV, which combines a Web browser and search capabilities into existing television services.
In June, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster suggested that Apple is working on a television set for release sometime next year.
"We continue to believe that Apple is developing a television set that will succeed its current Apple TV set-top-box, likely in late [calendar year] 2012," he wrote in a June 23 research note. "As recently as May 11 the US Patent and Trademark Office has published Apple patents relating to television-specific technology," including one for "advanced TV broadcast menus."
Moreover, he saw Apple television as a radical game-changer for many of the company's core products, including iCloud and the App Store. "Apple may add movies and TV shows purchased or rented in iTunes to the iCloud service, which could be viewed on a TV," he wrote. "Apple's strong iOS developer community would likely jump at the chance to build apps for an Apple Television, and Apple's iOS users would likely jump at the chance to buy one."
Those weren't the first rumors of Apple's supposed television plans. In April, Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek wrote that Apple could launch a subscription-based video service, possibly in the form of a television set or a new set-top box-not to be confused with the company's current Apple TV, a palm-size device that lets users stream Netflix and other content to their televisions.
If Apple does have plans for a subscription-based video service, purchasing Hulu could go a long way toward securing the infrastructure and rights it needs to make that happen. But as with most things Apple, trust that any details of a possible acquisition will be kept very hush-hush until a formal announcement.