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Hulu's possible future: A playground for cable subscribers

The TV and video streaming service is rumored to be swapping its free Internet model for one that requires users to pay for cable or satellite TV.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

It's looking like the jig may be up for Hulu as we know it. Rumor has it that the TV and video streaming service might be planning to switch from its free model to a plan that requires viewers to prove they pay for cable or satellite TV, according to the New York Post.

The purported new model is called "authentication" and would work by making users log into Hulu with cable or satellite TV account numbers in order to watch any show on the service -- essentially putting up a de facto pay wall around its content. HBO's streaming service, HBO Go, works exactly like this.

The streaming service is owned jointly by Fox parent News Corp., Walt Disney, Comcast, and equity firm Providence Equity Partners. It currently has two types of service, a free-for-all and a subscriber service that costs $7.99 per month and has about 2 million users. It's unclear if the rumored changes will affect both services.

According to the New York Post, Hulu had 31 million unique users in March and earned $420 million in ad revenue last year.

Hulu is not the first free service to explore authentication. Last July, Fox Network announced that it was delaying Web access to many of its popular TV shows to give cable and satellite TV providers greater exclusivity with programming -- meaning that subscribers get new shows immediately, while non-subscribers have to wait. According to the New York Post, Comcast also plans to use the authentication model for the Olympics this summer.

According to TechCrunch, sources familiar with the matter said that Hulu has been looking into authentication since 2009, but most likely won't actually put the scheme into place for a few more years. However, it's entirely possible that Hulu could start delaying the availability of new programs for both Hulu and Hulu Plus subscribers in the near future.

CNET contacted Hulu for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.