The future of television programming from Hulu has landed on the iPhone, iPod, and a host of other devices. The Hulu Plus service and software brings Hulu shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, and others, to mobile devices and Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players in high-definition. The hitch? It's $9.99 per month. The service is currently in an invitation-only preview period.
Hulu via a computer is and will remain free, supported by advertising. It's clear that Internet ads can't make up for revenue offset from broadcast commercials. The difference may be a factor of one hundred. Ads will reportedly still appear in the subscription version of Hulu, too.
I haven't done the side-by-side analysis of which programs are available in Hulu Plus that are missing from regular old Hulu, but it seems as if part of the push is that episodes from an entire season are available; Hulu currently expires current season episodes after a few weeks, only to bring them back later in the show archives. Shows that appear on non-broadcast channels ("cable" TV programs, like those on Home and Garden Network) will still not be available to prevent erosion of premium cable and satellite TV subscriptions.
The $9.99 per month fee dramatically undercuts iTunes Store subscription fees; NBC's 30 Rock, for example, costs $59.99 for a season pass in HD at iTunes. That downloaded version has its advantages: the image quality will be higher and it's available for access offline, permanently. Digital packrats and people who spend lots of time on planes will still want the files. But for those who just want to watch programs - and not have to tiptoe through the minefield of snippets and excerpts that currently characterizes the existing Hulu service - the streaming price seems more compelling.
A paid subscription service also makes sense for consumers who want to shift an expensive cable TV subscription to a mobile device combined with living room viewing options. The addition of HD resolution is supposed to entice consumers for both mobile and fixed viewing. Downstream bandwidth is recommended for at least 480 Kbps, but 1 Mbps or higher is better.
Hulu Plus is a neat complement to Netflix streaming, which offers a large movie selection, and has some overlap with current and previous season television shows. Netflix charges $8.99 for its least-expensive plan with unlimited streaming. Netflix's iPad app has been out since that device's launch, and an iPhone app is coming soon.
The Hulu Plus service is advertised as working in this preview stage with a large number of devices, most prominently the iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch running iOS 4, the iPhone 4, and the iPad. Hulu Plus is also compatible with certain models of Samsung TVs and Blu-Ray players. Support is coming later for Sony and Vizio TVs and Blu-ray players, the Sony Playstation 3, and the Xbox 360.
You can also use Hulu Plus on any Windows system with XP SP2 or later, Mac OS X 10.4 or later, or flavors of Linux. Flash 10.0 or later and a recent Web browser are also required.
My wife and I dropped our satellite TV subscription many months ago, saving about $70 per month, and use Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and network sites for the programs we watch. At $9.99 per month, Hulu Plus could be a reasonable add-on for us, far below the price of bringing cable or satellite TV back, but not so much as to dent the pocketbook.