The one thing that’s certain is the owners of Hulu want to sell. Mainly that’s Disney and News Corp since per the terms of Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, Comcast has to do whatever the other owners want. As for the buyer, interest initially from Yahoo, Google and now Apple will keep the tech echo chamber echoing for a while.
The ad-supported free episode model of Hulu runs counter to Apple’s current model which is to sell or rent individual episodes, so I’ll be at least a little surprised if Apple winds up buying Hulu. Of course Apple is sitting on a war chest of cash and can easily afford multi-billion dollar dabbling.
I wonder if new Nielsen measurement ultimately gums up the sales process though (and it brings up plenty of questions even if Hulu isn’t sold). Nielsen now includes online (and on demand) views of a show within three days of telecast into its commercial ratings (C3) used for advertising sales, provided the same national commercials are included that ran on TV. So far almost none of the networks haven’t embraced this which indicates advertisers probably aren’t really on board yet. But if the measure is ever embraced, it’s a problem for things like Hulu.
Do ABC, Fox and NBC start cramming full commercial loads into shows for the first three days, or just hold the shows off of Hulu altogether for three days? Neither option is great for Hulu users, or Hulu’s potential buyer. While it’s reported that any sale of Hulu would guarantee access to content from the participating networks for 5 years, I can’t see Hulu’s owners not wanting to maximize advertising revenue on Hulu in those five years unless Hulu is sold at a hefty premium.
Cynics will scoff that Apple just is interested in Hulu to kill it off to support its current business model, but I think that’s nonsense. Hulu is a great product, but if it’s not around and you can still get Fox, ABC, and NBC content available for free directly from those networks’ web sites, it’s not exactly a huge hurdle to jump over. I’m more inclined to think Apple is just rattling Google’s cage a little. Obviously Hulu’s owners wouldn’t mind a bidding war, but I’m not sure there will be a bidding war. Hulu is a great product, but its users are ultimately interested in the content, and not Hulu itself. Without guaranteed long-term exclusives, I don’t see the real value to the buyer, and without a huge premium, I don’t see the sellers being interested in those sort of exclusives.