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Hulu Plus closes in on 1 million subscribers

Hulu's ability to sign up paying subscribers sees dramatic improvement in June, just as the company is reportedly for sale. After a year though, Hulu Plus has yet to reach 1 million paying customers.

Hulu acquired more new customers in June than it did in the months of April and May combined, according to a blog post by CEO Jason Kilar.

Hulu CEO Jason Kilar Greg Sandoval/CNET

Kilar wrote that 875,000 subscribers now pay for Hulu Plus and that the company anticipates surpassing 1 million paying subscribers before the end of summer.

"We've continued our quest to make Hulu Plus available on every Internet-connected device," Kilar wrote. "In the past 90 days, we have made Hulu Plus available on Xbox 360 and Kinect, select Android smartphones, TiVo Premiere DVRs, and select Samsung Blu-ray players. Collectively, this means an additional 25 million devices are capable of accessing the Hulu Plus service."

The public has seen a wave of breathless announcements and leaks about Hulu in recent weeks. First, Yahoo was said to have made an offer, and then it was Microsoft and Google and AOL. Then Hulu announced it had renewed licensing deals with some of its content partners--the same ones, as it happens, that also own a share of Hulu.

Hey, what do you know?

Related links
• Netflix bests Hulu in battle of apps
• As Netflix bears down, Hulu Plus cuts price
• If Hulu loses CEO, who would want that gig?

This is the public-relations equivalent of slapping a little Bondo on a clunker. Hulu certainly has a few dings and dents to pretty up. I have no doubts that Hulu has acquired those 875,000 subscribers, but so what? Kilar crows that company amassed that number only since November, when it officially launched.

What he doesn't tell you is that the company debuted the service in a beta version over a year ago. So it's been a year and the service boasts fewer than 1 million subscribers. That isn't terrible but it certainly isn't jaw-dropping. Netflix, Hulu's main competitor and the top video-rental service now, has 23 million users. In the fourth quarter last year, Netflix reported 3 million new subscribers for its streaming-video service, a 166 percent jump from the 1.1 million the company added in the same period in 2009.

Netflix has nearly a decade head start on Hulu Plus but both have had roughly an equal crack at selling streaming video over the Internet to the masses and Netflix has made the more compelling pitch. Both services are available for roughly the same price but Hulu requires users to also watch ads.

If Kilar was really interested in helping Hulu maintain its value, perhaps he shouldn't have made public his disagreements with Hulu's owners, NBC Universal, Disney, and News Corp. Earlier this year, he wrote in another blog post that TV is cluttered with too many ads and he predicted that prices and profit margins for the TV sector would decline. He even lamented the tendency of "incumbents" to fight change.

Much of his post was about what Hulu needed to offer consumers if it is to be successful: low price, convenience, and innovation. The implication was that Hulu didn't offer those things.

Chart showing the number of Hulu Plus' paid subscribers. Hulu