Hulu subscription service could come next week

A beta version of "Hulu Plus" seems imminent, though the initial test could be limited to a select group of 10,000 people.

Some of you may finally get a chance to pay for Hulu. The video Web site is finalizing its plans to launch its subscription service, and people familiar with the company say a beta test of "Hulu Plus" could launch as early as next week.

If you're in a select group, that is. One person familiar with the site, owned by a joint venture of broadcasters and Providence Equity Partners, says the initial test could be limited to 10,000 people.

The Hulu Plus pitch, as I've previously reported: $9.95 a month for access to a deeper catalog of shows than the free service currently offers, plus the ability to watch it on devices other than a laptop or PC, including Apple's iPad. Other reports this month indicate that the service may also be available on Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PS3 game consoles.

I'm also told that Hulu's network owners--GE's NBC, Disney's ABC, and News Corp.'s Fox--are still hammering out rights deals for particular shows. So it's possible that the launch could be pushed back, or that the service will have weird gaps in its catalog when it does launch.

One example of a possible programming stumbling block: Viacom's Comedy Central, for instance, has rights to older episodes of NBC's "30 Rock."

Hulu says it is already turning a profit from ad sales, and is on track to generate more than $200 million in revenue this year. And a successful subscription service would beef up those numbers.

But it would also accomplish an equally important goal for CEO Jason Kilar--mollifying his network owners who worry that Hulu is cutting into their existing businesses, including licensing fees, DVD sales, and conventional TV advertising. Hulu and its network partners would split the $10 per head fee, I'm told, though I don't know the formula the JV will use to split up the dollars.

No comment from Hulu. The Wall Street Journal is also reporting on Hulu's plans.

 

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