When people think of subscription streaming video services, Hulu is usually part of the discussion but is often treated as secondary to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Yet, despite this third-place image of Hulu, it may be the streaming service that is most likely to contribute to people cutting the cord with their cable provider.
Hulu doesn’t have anywhere near the subscriber base of Netflix — which is now a global operation, serving virtually every country in the world — or Amazon, which bundles in its video offerings with its popular Prime subscription plan that includes free shipping and other benefits.
And while Hulu’s original content is beginning to get more attention, it has lagged behind both of the others in terms of the marquee exclusive shows it offers. What’s more, new Hulu shows are generally doled out on a weekly basis like they would be if they were on traditional TV, meaning they can’t be binge-watched (or at least not until a season is over and you can finally watch it all in one sitting). Let’s not forget that Hulu is also the only one of these services to force viewers to watch commercials (though you can pay more for access to an add-free tier).
Yes, despite all these apparent marks against Hulu, it is the streaming service that may be more likely to convince people to ditch Comcast, Charter, or DirecTV.
Speaking this morning to CNBC, M Science analyst Corey Barrett says he was surprised to see that, according to his data, cord-cutting was “most pronounced among Hulu subscribers.”
This disparity appears to be linked to Hulu’s one truly exclusive aspect: New broadcast and cable TV episodes shortly after they’ve aired. Yet, Netflix and Amazon each have some popular TV series in their libraries, but new episodes aren’t usually added until a full season has come and gone.
Take Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, for example. You could (until very recently; damn those expiring licensing deals) watch six seasons’ worth of the show on Netflix, but if you wanted to watch the latest season of the much-loved animated show, you either had to rely on your DVR and hope that Sunday afternoon sporting events didn’t run late and mess up the whole night’s programming, watch the very limited number of episodes made available on-demand or through the Fox website, or get Hulu.
Since Hulu is a partnership of Fox, Disney, and Comcast, users get most of the new content from these three networks at effectively the same time as it airs, and for a lot less than paying for cable.
“Netflix works on a window relative to the kind of timely pay-TV service, whereas Hulu is much more day-and-date, which makes it closer in nature to the type of service that pay-TV is,” explained Barrett, who later added that there was no real indication that the presence of ads on Hulu was affecting the decision to cut the cord.
Hulu recently jumped into the live-TV streaming fray with a test of a new $40/month service available in a limited number of markets. Many of the current players in that market — including Dish’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, and AT&T’s DirecTV Now — are reportedly having difficulty catching on with consumers in big numbers, despite the growing number of Americans who think pay-TV rates are too high.
As we’ve previously covered, one of the reasons that people aren’t flocking to these platforms is the lack of robust on-demand archives or DVR functionality. By combining a streaming service with its existing library, Hulu may be working toward addressing some of those issues. Users are able to catch up on multiple seasons of currently airing shows, rather than the handful of recent episodes offered elsewhere. Sony and Dish can’t offer anything similar since they don’t run the networks that make up the bulk of their streaming content. AT&T is trying to leverage its pending ownership of HBO parent company Time Warner to win DirecTV Now customers, throwing in discounted or free access to the premium network.