Rumor mill: Subscription Hulu is coming to iPad

Jim O'Neil

There are some rumors that never die, and this is one of them: Online video catch-up website Hulu is going to offer a subscription service on multiple devices, including the iPad.

Another news organization, this time Reuters, is reporting that the site will offer a model that gives viewers access to recent content for free, but would charge for older episodes and for some other premium content.

The Hulu-subscription rumors have been around almost as long as the platform itself; the progeny of News Corp., Disney and NBC Universal has been earning money--it had estimated ad revenues of $100 million last year and has been profitable for the past couple of quarters--in its current ad-supported model, but not enough to satisfy its trio of parent companies.

Late last year, a News Corp. exec let slip that the site would roll out some sort of subscription model this year. The L.A. Times also has served up a couple of rumors about a paid service itself, citing industry sources. The latest report is spare on details about pricing, reiterating but says the service will roll out on multiple devices in the next month or two, and will offer free access to recent shows but charge for older content and some additional premium content.

Last week, Gear Live reported that Hulu would be rolling out a subscription service on the Xbox June 14 at E3. It cited a source that "has never been wrong," saying the pay-Hulu would be on the Xbox dashboard like Netflix. It had few other details about how much subscriptions will run or when it might become generally available.

While Xbox would be a solid platform to push Hulu across, there's no doubt the iPad has to be more attractive to the regents at Hulu, who have to be agog at the success that Netflix has seen on the Apple tablet. The Netflix iPad app has been in the The Top 5 apps downloaded to the device since it launched in April (it's No. 4 today) and is simple, easy to use and free to subscribers who pay Netflix $8.95 a month for its by-mail DVD service. In May, it added video output, so users could stream through the iPad to their TV. Netflix, by the way, now has 14 million subscribers and half of them are streaming movies or TV shows.

Rumors about Hulu on the iPad began even before the tablet's launch, picked up again after it hit the street and have petered out since then. That's what makes this latest stir so interesting, is it just more pie in the sky served up because of Apple's roll out of its new iPhone 4? Or, is it finally coming to fruition?

Hulu on the iPad, means Hulu in the living room via the tablet's video output, and that's something Hulu--and more likely its parent companies--has been unwilling to allow.

CBS chief Les Moonves last month said at the Cable Show that, until he gets more than "only pennies" from his shows appearing online, he just doesn't think the business model will work for broadcasters, adding "That's why we're not on Hulu. And until the model works, we won't be." Is a subscription model, on a device like the iPad, enough of a change in the model to change his mind?

We'll see soon enough. -Jim