Would You Want to Own Hulu, But Without the Content?

Would you want to own Hulu? Former News Corp. President Peter Chernin’s $500 million bid for the online video streaming service is considered kind of a lowball offering. Hulu was valued at $2 billion just a little while ago.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not a bad offer at all since the stuff of Hulu—network programming from its owners, Walt Disney Co. ABC and News Corp’s Fox amd other places, including NBC-- would not continue for long once Hulu was sold. The networks want to package their own programming on their own Web sites.

Hulu is something of a destination point and warehouse for television and other content, but there is no shortage of them and programs are now making their own deals to go to other places, principally Netflix.  

That seems to be a good place to start thinking about Hulu.

It has debuted more than two dozen original or acquired series in the last two years, though none got a fraction of the publicity Netflix did for “House of Cards” and the upcoming revival of “Arrested Development.”  (Hulu’s Website currently notes that Paste Magzine has determined “AD” is the best show in the Hulu Plus library. There’s an awkward moment in marketing.)  

Was that comparative lack of excitement  because the network owners didn’t want to publicize shows on the Hulu platform? Or because the shows did not have the same marquee value? Or a lot of both? Whatever. Making Hulu as radical as Netflix is now being depicted would probably help its sagging unique visitor numbers.

I’d say Netflix is the reason Chernin might want to jump in. Screen choice is becoming increasingly irrelevant to viewers. If Hulu loses its access to network programs, it can create a pretty great site producing its own programming—both original and acquired—and leverage that Hulu name into an even stronger dominant brand. It isn’t cheap to produce programming but I would presume Hulu would also still be in the business of showing other networks’ programs or vintage shows and clips like it does now.

What’s more it becomes a “network” that is unencumbered by the FCC or other mass market sensibilities, giving it the chance to be the edgy brand accessed by tens of millions of viewers, probably far younger (and ad friendly) than what is there now. It seems like the kind of Web site program service that News Corp. would be buying, not selling. It could be kind of a Fox 2.0, and because Hulu is already an established brand and destination, ABC, NBC and Fox did a lot of the hard word for Chernin, or some other buyer.

There are some sharp edges. Nielsen has reported pretty big declines in Hulu’s unique visitors in the last six months or so. And there are more and more videos out there to be consumed. But Hulu has a name and a following. All it needs is content. That doesn't sound so impossible. It sounds like the way the Fox network started.

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