How skinny will Hulu’s new bundle be?


Disney and Fox want to sell a streaming TV package that will compete with the TV they already sell to Comcast. Which means they have to make choices about what goes in the package.

Hulu announced today that Disney and 21st Century Fox — the two companies that jointly operate Hulu — will have channels from Disney and 21st Century Fox in the new subscription service they plan to launch next year.

That’s not news — that’s just stating the obvious, in a press release.

The real news will come when Hulu tells us which Disney and Fox channels Hulu is going to offer, and how much the thing costs. And it’s not saying that yet.

Hulu’s press release does say that it has deals that will give it access to “more than 35* top networks”, and then lists many of them, including “Fox Sports networks such as the Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and BTN; ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN-SEC and ESPN 3; Fox Regional Sports Networks across dozens of key national markets; Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior; Fox News and Fox Business; Freeform; FX, FXX and FXM, and National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild.”

But we already know that Hulu wants to sell this stuff for about $40 a month.

And there’s no way that they’re going to fit all of those channels, plus Fox and ABC, plus whatever NBC channels they’re going to sell**, plus the Time Warner channels they’re going to include, plus maybe CBS, for $40 a month.

So some of this stuff either won’t make the cut at all, or will be available in some kind of extra tier or tiers.

My hunch is that both Fox and Disney will include some of their most essential channels — ESPN, Fox Sports 1, Fox News, Disney, etc. — in the base Hulu package, and then provide some of the others as add-ons.

This sounds like a common-sense approach to selling TV. It’s also an approach that shows you how much things have changed in the TV Industrial Complex in the past few years.

In the old days — just a couple of years ago — big TV conglomerates like Fox and Disney insisted that pay TV distributors had to take all of their channels, not just the ones most people want to watch.

And they did. Which is why your TV program guide is full of stuff you never watch and never heard of.

But now the TV guys are fighting to keep people from cutting the cord — or, at least convincing cord-cutters to buy some stuff from them instead of nothing at all. So they’ve discovered new-found flexibility.

But they’re not that flexible.

Apple, for instance, wanted to sell a streaming TV package for less than $30 a month, and in order for that to work, it would require Disney and Fox to sell really skinny packages — like ones that didn’t include ESPN. But the TV guys wouldn’t go for that.

So yes, the TV guys are going to offer a streaming TV package that will compete with the the TV packages they already sell to traditional TV distributors, like Comcast.

When they tell us what they’re going to sell, and how much they’re going to sell it for, we’ll be able to see just how serious they are about competing with the customers they already have.

*Why not spell the number out? That’s weird.

**NBC is a Hulu co-owner, but because of concessions it made to make the Comcast-NBCUniversal deal happen***, it has no say about how Hulu is run. And very limited say about which of its channels appear in online services like Hulu.

***NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site. Let’s cool it with the asterisks for the rest of this one, cool?

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