Hulu is ending its free video streaming service over the next few weeks, reports Variety. It plans to go exclusively with its subscription-based services. Remaining free content will be moved to Yahoo View.
Hulu senior VP Ben Smith is quoted in Variety as saying, “For the past couple years, we’ve been focused on building a subscription service that provides the deepest, most personalized content experience possible to our viewers… As we have continued to enhance that offering with new originals, exclusive acquisitions, and movies, the free service became very limited and no longer aligned with the Hulu experience or content strategy.”
This is the culmination of a long-term strategy by the company. To understand this announcement more fully, one must look back. Hulu launched in 2007 with all free, ad-supported content. Natalie Jarvey, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, describes those early days as “revolutionary at a time when there was little traditional-length video on the internet.” For comparison’s sake, consider that the first YouTube upload was in 2005. Hulu gained wider attention in 2009 with a Super Bowl commercial starring Alec Baldwin.
Hulu quickly found competition as Netflix made a rapid expansion into the streaming world. In 2010, Hulu announced Hulu Plus, a paid subscription-based service. It offered a wider depth of episodes and allowed Hulu content to be viewed on a television, instead of just a computer.
Over the next six years, Hulu’s focus would increasingly be on its subscription-based content and developing original, exclusive programming. The free content remained, but little was added to it. Some shows even disappeared as the rights went to Netflix or other streaming services.
Jarvey noted the current lack of promotion for Hulu’s free content. In fact, Hulu has recently seemed to bury any free content behind promotions for its paid service.
“its free service has become a low trafficked product. That could be because Hulu has de-emphasized its free content. Navigating to the homepage without logging in currently redirects to a page that encourages people to sign up for a free trial. It takes significant work to find the free videos available behind that landing page, though they are available.”
That brings us back to now, where Hulu has decided to no longer place any emphasis on free content and focus all its energies on paid subscription services. It also likely means that at the end of the month, Hulu-exclusive original programming like Difficult People, Moone Boy, and The Mindy Project, which can currently be seen without a subscription, will require a paid Hulu account to view.
Hulu’s free content generally tended to be older or less well-known material, including many vintage TV shows from the 1960s through the 1990s. It also had a large selection of what is often called B-movies, including content from MGM/American International Pictures (60s and 70s exploitation films), Full Moon Video (80s and 90s horror), Celestial Pictures/Shaw Brothers (70s and 80s kung-fu), and Shout Factory/Toho (60s and 70s Godzilla movies), among several others.
It appears, however, that not all will be lost. Variety reports that in the next several weeks, most free content should be moved to Yahoo View. Yahoo is Hulu’s “preferred partner” for free content going forward, according to Variety.
It would not be the first time Yahoo made a foray into streaming video. Jarvey in the Hollywood Reporter noted the launch of Yahoo View comes about “a half-year after shuttering Yahoo Screen, the video service that offered up ad-supported episodes of original TV shows like Community, live streaming concerts and other clips.” Despite featuring original, creator-centric programming like a revival of Dan Harmon’s Community and Paul Feig’s new sci-fi comedy Other Space, Yahoo Screen was unsuccessful. At the moment, those programs have been relocated to a site simply known as Yahoo TV Originals. It is unclear at this time whether or not they will be merged with Yahoo View.
TV Fanatics Unite! Introducing Yahoo View, a TV Watching Experience Featuring Hulu https://t.co/Om6wMSIM5l— Yahoo Inc. (@YahooInc) August 8, 2016
Yahoo View, while hosted on Yahoo’s site, currently uses the Hulu video player embedded in the page. The homepage of Yahoo View describes itself as “Yahoo View – Featuring Hulu.” This may change over the next few weeks as all the content is migrated, but it currently stands as a somewhat unusual blend of disparate corporate branding and software. Like Hulu, Yahoo is also at somewhat of a crossroads, having recently announced that it would be sold to Verizon.
In a press release, Yahoo describes Yahoo View as “the extension of Yahoo’s long-standing distribution partnership with Hulu.” It goes on to describe how the website will integrate Hulu content with fan-produced Tumblr content. Tumblr, the popular blog/social-media platform, is owned by Yahoo.
Jess Lee, Vice President of Lifestyles Product at Yahoo, is hopeful about the combination of Hulu and Tumblr.
“As a TV junkie and Tumblr fan myself, I’m personally excited to have one place that brings together the best of free TV and Tumblr fandom… Yahoo View is our first step towards creating a powerful community TV-watching experience, but it’s really only the beginning.”
[Image via Yahoo Inc.]