Time Warner Eyes Hulu Stake, Wants Service To Remove Current Seasons Of Shows
from the don't-innovate-too-much dept
We’ve discussed for years now how Hulu is hamstrung by the fact that it’s owned by the traditional cable and broadcast industry. Owners 21st Century Fox, Disney and Comcast/NBC have gone out of their way to ensure the service is never too disruptive — lest it hurt the traditional cable cash cow. And that’s been the cable industry’s mantra for years now — crow ceaselessly about how you’re “innovating,” while simultaneously trying not to innovate too much, lest your customers realize your legacy TV service is absurdly expensive, inflexible, and outdated.
As the industry has slowly realized that it can no longer just pretend cord cutting doesn’t exist — things have improved slightly, with Hulu making a renewed effort to invest in original programming and dramatically broadening its content catalog to better compete with Amazon and Netflix. The company has also listened to consumer complaints and now offers an ad free version — while placing fewer ads in the ad supported option. Hulu is also attracting new investors, with reports that Time Warner is looking to give a $2 billion cash infusion in exchange for a 25% stake.
But while Time Warner isn’t making it a condition of the deal, the company is making it clear that it would like to see Hulu pull current seasons of shows in a misguided belief that it can turn back time:
“Time Warner believes that the presence of full, current seasons on Hulu—or anywhere else outside the bounds of pay-TV—is harmful to its owners because it contributes to people dropping their pay-TV subscriptions, or “cutting the cord.” In the discussions about taking a 25% equity stake in Hulu, Time Warner has told the site’s owners that it ultimately wants episodes from current seasons off the service, at least in their existing form, although that is not a condition for its investment, according to the people familiar with the discussions.
The problem is that Time Warner would join Comcast in sharing the delusion that you can be both simultaneously disruptive and innovative on the streaming side, while still magically preventing traditional cable customers from noticing and cutting the cord. Comcast was barred from meddling in matters of Hulu management as a condition of its acquisition of NBC, but it’s a condition Comcast largely ignored. It’s also a seven year condition that will expire shortly after Time Warner seals its new ownership stake, meaning a double dose of myopic, backward-looking leadership at Hulu at precisely the wrong time.
Though many in the insular cable industry ecosystem like to pretend otherwise, it’s simply no longer a debate: consumers are increasingly cutting the cord and migrating to cheaper, more flexible viewing options. Traditional TV customers get 194 channels, but they only watch, on average, about 17 of them. 16% of consumers cut the cord last year, while 23% of consumers engaged in “cord-trimming” (reducing their overall cable package) in some way. 57% of those asked, unsurprisingly, say that price is the biggest reason they’re looking to shake things up.
It’s not an enviable position for the traditional TV industry to be in. To seriously combat cord cutting, it needs to offer a more flexible product at a lower cost — something that (with a few “skinny bundle” exceptions) it absolutely refuses to do. What we get instead is turf protection (broadband usage caps), a boat load of denial and failed “me too” services like Comcast Streampix that, thanks to fear of cannibalizing the legacy cash cow, are neither here nor there. The problem is, if Hulu isn’t willing to offer what consumers want, Netflix, Amazon, or some other company certainly will.