Why the Comcast-NBC merger is no reason to fear for Hulu’s future

December 10, 2009

Will Comcast take a bite out of Hulu?

Illustration by JPT



Ever since the rumors of Comcast’s now-impending acquisition of NBC-Universal began buzzing, so too have questions about whether the future of Hulu — the free video streaming site part-owned by NBC — is at stake.

After all, observers noted, much of the content made available for free on Hulu was previously only accessible via cable subscription, the necessity of which consumers have begun to question, thanks to the recession and the availability of free television content on the Internet. Will Comcast mess with Hulu?

I don’t think we should worry about losing Hulu as we know it anytime soon. Here’s why:

  1. Fancast. Comcast has already launched its own version of Hulu called Fancast. Same deal: Lots of TV shows and a smattering of movies. For free. Obviously, Comcast isn’t opposed to streaming TV content online for free. (To be fair, one counterargument could be: Exactly. Comcast may try to throttle Hulu’s success in favor of its own site. However… )
  2. If Comcast pulls NBC’s content out of Hulu, it will not only piss everybody off (okay, fine, you’re right, Comcast *is* used to doing that), but it will leave ABC and other content providers who will remain on Hulu– ie, Comcast’s new competitors — with an advantage.
  3. I don’t have cable. I watch all my TV shows online. But guess who I shell out $60 a month to for Internet access. That’s right: Comcast. Something tells me those bastards will find a way to leverage their ISP business to make up for lost cable subscribers and still end up being an obscenely profitable company.
  4. There’s still stuff you can only get (legally) from a cable subscription. While many – if not most – popular television shows are available to stream online for free, many are still only available via cable. Many sports broadcasts and new episodes of “premium” HBO shows can’t easily be found online to stream and thus, an incentive still exists for people to purchase a cable subscription. Besides…
  5. Most of the NBC-owned content currently on Hulu is network TV, and thus doesn’t require a cable subscription to view anyway. I can watch The Office and 30 Rock on TV without cable. Unless Comcast/NBC would pull these shows just to hurt Hulu’s traffic, I can’t see a compelling business reason for them to restrict access to them on Hulu.
  6. Of course, anything can happen. Many people just expect a negative outcome when Comcast is involved, which is not totally unjustified. Indeed, they may find a way to ruin or water-down Hulu. But there are plenty of good reasons for it not to.

     

     

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