By Dan Moren
May 3, 2017 7:38 AM PT
Hulu launches Live TV beta
As anticipated, streaming site Hulu has officially launched its Live TV service–albeit with a “beta” tag hung on it because, you know, it’s a web service and that’s just the way those things are done–offering a large slate of channels for one $40-per-month price tag.
Hulu’s is the latest entry in a crowded market that already includes offerings from Sling and YouTube. Most of these services are pretty similar, from the range of their available channels to their features–cloud-based DVRs, for example.
But one place where Hulu has set itself apart from its competitors is by bundling in access to its extensive library of on-demand shows. When you sign up for the Live TV plan, you essentially get the Hulu service–which costs $8/month on its own–for free.1 Sadly, it’s not the commercial-free plan; you’ll still get ads unless, it seems, you pony up the additional $4 monthly fee to go without them. (And even if you do, you won’t be able to skip commercials in the Live TV content; for DVR shows, you’ll need to pay extra for the “Enhanced DVR” plan which also includes more storage.)
The channels on Hulu’s service include most of the major networks–ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX–as well as a selection of their subsidiaries (ESPN, USA, FX, and so on). There are some major players missing, though: no CW2, for example, and no PBS. You can still pay extra for Hulu’s existing Showtime add-on, but no other premium channels like HBO or Starz. And because the local affiliate situation is thorny–in my area, I can get the local CBS and NBC stations and a couple of local cable channels–live streaming of those major networks is limited to very few geographical areas at launch.
Hulu’s plan is positioned as an interesting frenemy to Apple’s current TV-is-apps plan. On the one hand, if most of your TV consumption is in Hulu, it may be the most important (or only important) app on your Apple TV. But on the other, the company’s recently launched TV app should pull in information from your watchlist, as it currently does with Hulu’s on-demand library. So perhaps that makes them more complementary. At least until Apple gets into the TV bundle game, which I’m increasingly convinced will happen.
Personally, I’m on the fence as to whether Hulu’s new service appeals to me. I already pay the $8 a month for Hulu and I’m pretty happy with it, though many of the shows I watch are available in other places too. I also pay $10 month for Comcast’s Xfinity Stream TV option, which doesn’t have an Apple TV app, but does provide me access to HBO and Starz (and is cheaper than those services on their own). As it stands, Hulu’s Live TV plan would give me access to a lot of networks that otherwise require authenticating with a cable provider. But it’s still not everything I want under one roof–and it’s a lot of things I don’t care about, like sports–so if it’s not going to save me money by letting me cancel other services, well, it’s kind of a non-starter, at least for now.
Still, we’re only in the beginning stages of these online Live TV plans. It’s clear that watching television is still in a phase of rapid evolution, and it’s going to look very different even in the next year or two.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
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