Hulu has officially launched its long-awaited live TV service, increasing the choices for watchers who want to cut the cable cord.
Customers who want to add live content from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and a total of more than 50 other channels to Hulu's on-demand video library can upgrade to a $39.99 monthly package. That includes Hulu's current $7.99 monthly on-demand service with limited commercials. Subscribers can pay more for no commercials, more cloud DVR capacity and more than two simultaneous streams.
Earlier this week, the streaming service signed a deal bringing NBC and NBCUniversal's channels to the live TV lineup. Those channels include Bravo, CNBC, E!, MSNBC, NBCSN, Syfy and Telemundo. In addition to those channels, Hulu's live service also has CNN, Fox News, Fox Business, A&E, USA, TBS, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, Food Network, History, HGTV and Travel Channel.
The arrival of Hulu's live TV service, along with that of YouTube TV, could encourage more traditional pay-TV subscribers to cut the cord, says 7Park Data analyst Christopher Coby.
"Now you bring in convenience, maybe some cost savings and you bring in news and sports and you start to get to that new world that we’ve been talking about for years," he said.
At the launch of Hulu's beta service as of Wednesday, all four major network broadcasts will be available in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago. In other markets, subscribers might have some, but not all networks until deals are struck with broadcasters. Hulu plans to roll out local channels in markets as quickly as possible.
All stations owned and operated by the companies invested in Hulu — The Walt Disney Company (ABC), Comcast (NBCUniversal) and 21st Century Fox — will be available, as will CBS affiliates. (Fox, Disney/ABC and NBC each own 30% of Hulu; Time Warner owns 10%.)
Despite missing some popular channels such as AMC (The Walking Dead), Discovery and Nickelodeon, Hulu's live TV service has 18 of the top 25 primetime networks and represents a different offering to what's already out there for live TV streaming, said Vijay Jayant, research analyst for investment banking firm Evercore ISI, in a note to investors Wednesday.
That could help Hulu, especially given higher than-expected reductions in pay-TV subscribers during the first three months of 2017,he said.
Skinny bundle competitor
Hulu's monthly price compares well with other entrants in the growing "skinny bundle" battle. YouTube TV, which launched recently with ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in the same cities Hulu is in, is priced at $35 monthly, but does not have the Turner channels (CNN, TBS).
Sling TV can be lower-priced than Hulu ($20-$40 monthly), but does not have CBS, or ABC in all markets. DirecTV Now ($35-$70) can offer more channels, but no CBS or cloud DVR, while Sony's PlayStation Vue (starts at $29.99) also does not have all broadcast affiliates nationwide.
Hulu says the combination of live linear TV and an abundant on-demand library gives the company a selling point lacked by other Net TV players such as Netflix and Sling TV.
“Hulu can now be a viewer’s primary source of television," said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins in a statement.
So far, about two million subscribe to these live Net TV services, estimates Evercore ISI's Jayant.
Hulu, which has offered Net-delivered on-demand video since 2008, announced last year that it would add live TV to the service. Also last year, Hulu quit offering free content and added two subscription levels: a $7.99 monthly tier with limited ads and a $11.99 tier with no commercials.
The service has expanded its own original programming to include The Mindy Project, 11.22.63, The Path and new series The Handmaid's Tale, while also providing current broadcast shows such as The Voice, Empire and Scandal (new episodes usually go live a few hours after broadcast, at about 5 a.m. ET/2 a.m. PT) and a library of other TV series such as Seinfeld and South Park and movies.
At launch, Hulu's live TV beta will be available on Apple TV, Chromecast and Xbox One, as well as Android and iOS mobile devices. Other devices including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Mac and Windows PCs will get the option soon.
The $39.99 beta service comes with 50 hours of cloud DVR recording storage and up to six individual Hulu profiles with two simultaneous streams. Subscribers can upgrade to 200 hours of cloud DVR storage for $14.99 monthly and up to as many streams at home as wanted (three outside the home) for $14.99. (Get both features -- expanded cloud DVR and unlimited screens -- for $19.99.) Subscribers can also add Showtime for $8.99 monthly.
Hulu also unveiled a makeover for its user interface with improved recommendations and a Kids Mode, which gives children browsing capabilities of only kid-friendly shows. The new look comes to all beta subscribers, as well as current subscribers on 4th generation Apple TV devices, Xbox One and Android mobile devices.