Apple and Hulu: like oil and water

iTunes and Hulu appear be on a collision course, which could be why Apple is considering a Hulu acquisition. The problem is that that the two companies have diametrically opposing views.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

What's a company to do when it has $76.2 billion in cashin the bank? Why, go on a spending spree of course!

In its Q3 2011 earnings conference call with investors Apple disclosed that it's sitting on a huge nest-egg of cash. From the transcript:

Our cash for short-term and long-term marketable securities totaled $76.2 billion at the end of the June quarter compared to $65.8 billion at the end of the March quarter, a sequential increase of $10.4 billion. Cash flow from operations was $11.1 billion, an increase of 131% year-over-year.

Two sources tell Bloomberg that Apple is considering a bid for video streaming service Hulu:

Hulu would give Apple a new subscription service and represent a possible challenge to Netflix Inc. Hulu’s media- company owners, Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Comcast Corp.’s NBC Universal, are offering suitors a five-year extension of program rights, including two years of exclusive access, people familiar with the matter said earlier this week.

Sound familiar?

Readers of this blog should remember that I encouraged Apple to go on a spending spree in 2008, 2009 and 2010. I even recommended that Apple acquire Hulu back in 2008, noting that it may be tough because Hulu has the backing of NBC Universal/Comcast and Fox/News Corp., which may not go down without a fight.

In 2006 Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion making Steve Jobs the largest individual Disney shareholder. In May 2009 Disney announced that it would invest in Hulu (a stake estimated at 30 percent). So by extension, Jobs may have a significant amount of influence in the deal after all.

Would Hulu help Apple or hurt it? It appears that the two companies have diametrically opposing views. In May 2009 I asked the question "Could Disney's investment in Hulu upset the iTunes applecart?"

Business Week’s Cliff Edwards points out that Apple neither creates video content nor does it distribute it for free online. Both of course, are core features of Hulu.

The threat is that Hulu is streaming free (albeit with ads) what Apple is trying to sell and rent. Gartner’s Michael McGuire adds that we could be seeing a shift away from paying for video content to streaming it for free, saying “over time, perhaps the direct-payment model goes away.”

Hulu’s leading the movement to try to convince iTunes customers that they don’t need to purchase downloads and that ad-supported video content is better because it’s free.

iTunes and Hulu appear be on a collision course, which could be why Apple is considering a Hulu acquisition. I just hope that Apple doesn't shutter the service like it did with music streaming service Lala.com which it acquired in 2009.

Photo: AppleGazette

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