Looks like the concept of paying for online content is getting a boost from a slightly unexpected quarter: Rumors are abounding that free Internet TV portal Hulu will erect at least a partial pay wall sometime next year.
As rumors go, this one comes from a pretty key source--News Corp.'s Deputy Chairman Chase Carey. Since the company has partial ownership of Hulu, that means the word is coming pretty much right from the top. Speaking at the recent OnScreen summit, Carey plainly said it was time his company started "getting paid for broadcast content online," which of course translates from businessspeak into something like: "Consumer's cash should be in our pockets, not theirs." The content providers should switch their attention from blocking piracy and Google, and start realizing the value of its media. "Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business," Carey noted, adding a timescale of around 2010 to the idea.
Is Carey right?Will erecting a pay wall around some of Hulu's specially-filmed content or premium shows actually combat piracy? Hulu's own Jason Kilar in our recent magazine article seems to suggest that Hulu itself is reluctant to go for pay wall technology as a complete solution: "We don't think any one consumer model is the answer" is how he responded to suggestions News Corp. would push for paid content.
Or is Carey simply re-spinning the paid content party line his big boss Rupert Murdoch is shouting loudly about whenever he can? It's easy to argue that charging for content will actually act as a spur to piracy, and that Carey's description that a pay wall delivers video to "consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value" is nothing more than an back-asswards, cash-fueled corporate dream.
Still, maybe we needn't worry too much about this rumor just yet--by his own admission, Carey's only been to one board meeting at Hulu since starting to work at News Corp. Perhaps he's talking out of turn, and just revealing a fragment of the internal debate about raising cash from content. The fact Carey mentions relaxing on the criticism of Google--a big Murdoch hate issue--seems to suggest he's not quite aligned with News Corp. thinking anyway.