Are the Networks About to Completely Screw Up Hulu?

It looks like Hulu could be in for some major changes. Variety has acquired a confidential memo regarding changes the streaming service is considering following the buyout of one of its owners in September. They're just speculation for now, but they sound like a pain for viewers and bad, bad news for Hulu.

It's like this: Hulu is owned by Comcast (NBC), News Corp (FOX), Disney (ABC), and Providence Equity Partners, which helped fund it. Providence is being bought out, and that means more power for the networks. Which means more pains in your butt when it comes to ABC and FOX shows. And the only reason NBC is immune is that Comcast can't make any changes to its agreement, as a term of its deal to acquire the network.

Here are the changes Variety quotes from the memo:

• No more exclusivity for current-season content once restricted to Hulu and the networks' respective websites. Now Disney and News Corp. can turn around and license programming to another third-party, i.e. YouTube, which could dilute Hulu's competitive advantage in the marketplace.

• No more content parity. ABC.com and Fox.com will be able to hold back certain content to differentiate their own sites from Hulu, which was once entitled to everything on the networks' sites.

• Exclusive "super-distribution" rights Hulu once retained to syndicate content to third-party sites like Yahoo and AOL would revert back to Disney and News Corp.

• Fox wants to increase to four ads per commercial pod on Hulu.com.

Now, non-exclusive content is good for viewers, since other services like Netflix and Amazon Prime could swoop in and land deals. But that significantly weakens Hulu's foothold as the TV streaming service. And the show-specific content withholding for ABC and FOX seems destined to make it harder than ever to see the most popular shows. Four commercials per break speaks for itself.

This comes at a strange time for Hulu. It recently landed on Apple TV, which was a win for both parties. But the networks have always been slow to accept Hulu as their own, instead keeping it at arm's length, left to fend for itself against other services.

The memo says that one factor in these changes is how successful Hulu Plus has been. Which is true, Plus is pretty good, with stuff like the Criterion Collection and a huge selection of TV shows. But inconveniences like the already annoying desktop-only content restrictions, along with new factors like selective content from ABC and FOX, and interminable commercial breaks, aren't going to do it any favors.

The only way this shakes out to be a good thing for everyone is if the networks use this newfound freedom to spread the content wealth around other services, liberally. But when have content owners ever failed to act in their own shortsighted, backward-looking interests? [Variety via Verge]