Hulu Plans to Offer Streamed Cable TV Programming

The service reportedly will begin in the first quarter of 2017 as the company seeks new customers who want traditional TV in new ways.

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Hulu is preparing to compete directly with cable television companies by launching its own streaming TV service offering to customers that will provide daily network and cable TV programming by subscription.

The company "hopes to launch the new cable TV-style online service in the first quarter of 2017, according to a May 1 story by The Wall Street Journal, which was based on reports from anonymous sources who are familiar with the matter.

The planned service would stream popular broadcast and cable TV channels and expand the company's reach from simply offering streamed on-demand TV programming, including current broadcast TV hits, movies, Hulu original shows and more, the article reported. "Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox, co-owners of Hulu, are near agreements to license many of their channels for the platform," the story continued.

Among the networks that are expected to be part of the Hulu service offering are ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel, Fox broadcast network, Fox News, FX and Fox's national and regional sports channels, The Journal reported. "Preliminary conversations with other programmers have begun, but the service isn't looking to offer all the hundreds of channels found in the traditional cable bundle, according to the people familiar with the plans."

One notable omission at this point is Comcast, which is also an owner of Hulu, but "so far hasn't agreed to license its networks for the planned digital pay-TV service," the report continued.

Hulu did not immediately respond to an eWEEK inquiry regarding the report about the potential new television streaming service.

Hulu's existing streaming subscriptions are priced from $7.99 to $11.99 per month and provide a wide range of programming. Subscribers of the streaming TV service would not be required to also subscribe to the company's existing offerings, The Journal article said. The price of the upcoming service could be about $40 a month, according to the story.

The streaming video and streaming TV markets are continuing to get more competitive as service offerings to customers expand.

In March, mobile phone carrier AT&T announced that AT&T and DirecTV customers will be able to dump their satellite dishes and receive a wide range of video content via wired or wireless Internet streaming on any device under new services that are expected to launch by the end of 2016. Under three options, customers will be able to get a multitude of DirecTV Now packages that contain various assortments of content similar to DirecTV content today, DirecTV Mobile packages that they can view anywhere or DirecTV Preview packages with ad-supported free content, according to the companies.

The packages will work over a wired or wireless Internet connection from any provider on a smartphone, tablet, smart TV, streaming media hardware or PC. The services will allow several users to view content over simultaneous sessions, and they will not require annual contracts, satellite dishes or set-top boxes, according to AT&T.

The DirecTV Now packages will include on-demand and live programming from many networks, plus premium add-on options, and will be available for use after downloading an app and signing up for an account. AT&T acquired DirecTV for $48.5 billion in July 2015, after having pursued the merger since May 2014, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

AT&T's move to offer enhanced deals to bring over DirecTV customers to grow its own subscriber base was part of the company's vision for making the acquisition in the first place. The merger turned AT&T into a bigger player with its hands in more markets and a ready pool of new prospects to bring into its business coffers.

Last July, Comcast began offering its Comcast Stream online video streaming service for $15 per month, which provides customers with a package of live television stations, all over their cable Internet connections. The Stream service works without a television or cable box, instead bringing a live video stream directly to a customer's in-home devices over the Internet via a cable modem.

Stream is an Internet-only service and is not connected to Comcast's cable television services, which remain separate. The channels included in Stream are network programming from ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, Univision, HBO and local channels where a subscriber lives.

Netflix, a major competitor to Hulu, claims it has about 75 million members in more than 190 countries, and offers streaming video subscription plans priced from $7.99 to $11.99 per month. Its members watch more than 125 million hours of movie and television programming a day, according to the company.

In April, Comcast announced that its NBCUniversal division is acquiring DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion as the longtime cable company continues to build its future by adding complementary businesses to steady it as the future of cable television remains unfocused. The merger brings huge opportunities for content streaming to Comcast, which like other cable companies, is seeing its business impacted by customers who are replacing their cable connections with streaming video and original programming from services, such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.