Introducing Hulu Plus: Now With More Features, Twice The Cowbell

There've been rumors swirling around that the popular TV service Hulu was planning to launch a paid subscription service for quite some time. Those rumors have now been confirmed in a company blog post by Jason Kilar, the CEO of Hulu. According to Kilar, Hulu Plus isn't a replacement for Hulu, but a complementary accompanying service that will offer full seasons of current shows rather than the handful of trailing episodes as is currently the case.

Hulu Plus also gives the user access to back seasons and/or full runs of certain shows, including:
  • The X-Files
  • Law & Order: SVU
  • Arrested Development
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Ally McBeal
  • Roswell
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Saturday Night Live (the first five and last five seasons)
Hulu Plus subscribers will be able to watch Hulu directly from certain Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players via a downloaded app and the service will also stream directly to an iPad if desired. Users with an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 will also be able to stream episodes to wherever they happen to be, although us iPhone 3G users are apparently left out in the cold.

Hulu on the iPad

"The Hulu Plus app on the iPhone streams over 3G and Wi-Fi," Kilar writes. "It’s TV shows in the palm of your hand. A spare five minutes will never be as boring again. You can start watching a show on your HDTV one night, pick up where you left off on your laptop at lunch, watch another chunk on the bus ride home on your iPhone, and finish watching in bed on your iPad. The time to watch your favorite shows is any time you want."

For now, subscriptions to Hulu Plus ($9.99 a month) will be invitation only, with waves of invites going out via Facebook and Twitter. Remember, Hulu Plus doesn't replace standard Hulu, which will still be ad-supported and available to anyone who cares to use it.

One of the most interesting questions is what services like Hulu (and to some extent, Netflix) will do to the existing cable and satellite television services. It's hard to ignore the fact that buying cable from Comcast gives us access to a library of television on a handful of larged, fixed devices, while Hulu Plus offers to stream it to wherever the customer happens to be. The list of supported devices is currently small, but it doesn't take a genius to see Hulu Plus expanding into a greater range of smartphones and slates if the iPod/iPad experiment is successful.

The cable industry's own resistance to ala carte programming (in which users can pick their own channels) could prove to be its undoing. For decades, the standard has been to nickle and dime consumers for channels they don't want (The Chimp Channel, anyone?) while charging big bucks for the handful of channels reliably in high demand. Now Hulu Plus is offering an entire year of episodes, a significant back catalog, and on-demand streaming to any location for a fraction of the cost.

The attractiveness of Hulu's on-demand streaming may partly depend on what WiFi coverage is like in a given area. While the service supports 3G, recent changes to data plans from the likes of AT&T make it substantially more difficult to stream much material without going over the monthly service limit. Ironically, the greed of the telecommunications industry could strangle growth of a new medium and end up strengthening the cable companies. Regardless of who wins the global struggle, however, Hulu Plus looks like an intriguing option. Any takers?