Rumor mill redux: Hulu's going pay-per-view

You can file this one under the "I've heard this all before" heading, but maybe, just maybe it deserves a little more credence: Hulu is going to a subscription format for at least some of its content. That according to the Los Angeles Times' "Company Town" column, which reports that sources say the progeny of NBC Universal, News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners, is looking at a plan that would allow users to see recent episodes of a TV series, but would charge for older episodes. (Note to Hulu: That's a plan that's done, uh, not so well in the newspaper and magazine world where many publications give readers access to stories up to 30 days old, but charge to access the publication's library for older stories.)

Hulu execs, say the Times, have been crunching metrics to see what viewers might be willing to pay for and what fee would be acceptable.

So far, the magic number appears to be $4.99 a month, but the execs acknowledge that the current lineup of available episodes and series is a little thin, and believe a minimum of 20 series would be needed to achieve critical mass with the masses.

Hulu, of late, has been a hot topic. Last month comScore reported that the site streamed nearly a billion videos in November, second only to YouTube's 12 billion and far ahead of the rest of the top 10 online video properties. Of course, Hulu's actual existence is a matter of debate if the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast goes through. While the cable company apparently is telling legislators and the FCC it won't kill the site if it's allowed to complete its deal with General Electric for NBCU, some skeptics are saying it may be more a matter of when Comcast pulls the plug than if.

This isn't the first time rumors about Hulu charging for content have circulated. In October, a News Corp. exec told a gathering that "It's time to start getting paid for broadcast content online."

For more:
- see this LA Times story