Hulu to Steal 'Right' to Free Content

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

I love TV, but don't have cable. So the news recently that Hulu, the free television website hosted by NBC and Fox, could soon charge for content hit me pretty hard. Asked earlier this month whether Hulu would charge customers, NewsCorp’s chief digital officer Jonathan Miller responded, "the answer could be yes. I don't see why over time that shouldn't happen."

Hulu's final move on charging for content could decide the future of online media. As the viability of print sources becomes more and more unrealistic, and advertising revenue continues to fall, online television channels, magazines, and newspapers will be faced with a similar question: Charge for content and risk losing customers and advertisers, or keep content free and suffer inadequate advertising revenue to maintain traffic.

Either way, I just can't stop thinking about all the quality (and not-so-quality) television that I will miss out on if I don't subscribe (which might not be realistic on an intern's paycheck). Below are some of the shows that I will miss the most, covering what I believe to be the spectrum of essential Hulu genres.

  1. Battlestar Galactica. Get your nerd on watching the 70s version of the best modern space-related show on Hulu. The site also has the most recent 5 episodes of the new and improved series. Watchable? Yes for 2004 series, absolutely not for 1978 series. Also Enjoy: Star Gate SG-1, Lost in Space
  2. Arrested Development. Hulu is the only site I know of with all three seasons of one of the oddest sitcoms in history. Watch to prepare for the upcoming movie. Watchable: Only if you don't die laughing. Also enjoy: The Office, 30 Rock.
  3. Late Night Comedy. Catch full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Watchable? Yes, but they aren't uploaded until the next day, which takes away from the late night charm. Best before work, at lunch, or around 4 pm, when quitting time is almost within reach. Also Enjoy: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian.
  4. WWE Monday Night Raw. No full episodes, but Hulu delivers with nearly 300 clips of action, all performed by hilariously bad, massively built actors. Watchable? No! Ridiculous question! Also Enjoy: Friday Night Smackdown. But, really?
  5. Miami Vice. Police were weird in the 80s. If things still ran this way in Miami, we'd have way bigger problems than potentially paying for online TV. Watchable? Undecided. Also Enjoy: The A Team, Airwolf.

At the end of the day, it's unrealistic to feel entitled to free online television. Somewhere along the line, though, internet users began to think that all content available online should be free. First came Napster, and music listeners all of a sudden felt entitled to free music, regardless of the economic impact it had on artists. Then newspapers and magazines transitioned online and universally struggled to find a working online business model. Finally, television channels and media organizations began providing their content online. And before we knew it, free TV felt like a universal right. Unfortunately, it's not. And if Hulu decides to charge its viewers, then newspapers, magazines, and online radio stations will likely follow close behind.

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