Long, long after the cat has been let out of the bag, it's finally dawning on companies that an Internet of free content might not fit into the business plans of big media firms. On the heels of the New York Times announcing that it will start charging for online article viewing (after a limited number of freebies per month) in 2011, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Hulu is starting to piece together some details around charging viewers for some of the shows they've been watching online. The article speculates that such new paid viewing options are being put in place to allow the service to start being offered by connected home theater devices (Blu-ray players, media streamers, etc.) so you can watch Hulu on your HDTV.
Three shows have been singled out as moving from free to fee status: "30 Rock," "Modern Family" and "House." One possibility is that you can view the five most recent episodes for free, but to access older episodes, you'll need to pay for a $4.99 per month subscription. The decision on how to charge users hasn't been finalized, according to the Hulu source with whom the paper spoke, but could come within the next six months. Such a move would follow in the wake of Boxee—the media streaming service that recently teamed up with D-Link to introduce the Boxee Box to connect to your TV (and even let you watch Hulu)—announcing plans to introduce paid video downloads by summer.
Considering that Hulu replays have far fewer commercials than broadcasts of the same episodes, it's understandable that content providers will want a pay option before the service can announce meaningful hardware partnerships. That's especially true considering that Comcast is getting a piece of the Hulu action through its purchase of NBC Universal, and won't want people abandoning its cable service to watch all their TV for free through a Hulu-enabled device. So Hulu starting to charge is looking inevitable, but the other part of the equation—getting people to actually pay for content—is still unknown.
Would you be willing to pay for any part of Hulu's service? If so, what would it be? Let us know in the TalkBack section.