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Where is the value in Hulu Plus?

June 30, 2010 | 11:35 am

Hulu, online TV, Netflix, Boxee, cable TV, over the top Full disclosure up front: I'm cheap. I went without cable for years before signing up for Sezmi's $20-a-month plan, a concession I made mainly to silence my kids' incessant demands for Cartoon Network. (Curse you, Ben Tennyson!!!) We'd also gotten by just fine without a TiVo, as miraculous a device as it is, because Hulu and similar offerings from the networks obviate the need for a recorder. With all the shows available online, a computer in the kitchen is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a TV in the kitchen.

But Hulu has to pay its bills, right? And it's been under pressure from some television programmers, particularly the ones that don't want to undermine the combination of advertising and subscription revenues they get from cable TV, to generate more dollars from viewers. So it was inevitable that Hulu would come out with a premium tier (or tiers) that carried a subscription fee.

I just didn't expect Hulu Plus to be so, well, lame.

For $10 a month (OK, $9.99), Hulu Plus offers a full season's worth of episodes from this year's broadcast TV lineup (the free Hulu typically offers just the latest five episodes of each program), access to a variety of older TV series ("Roswell"! "Miami Vice"! "Quantum Leap"!) and the ability to watch Hulu on selected devices (iPhones, iPads, Xbox 360s, PlayStation 3s and certain connected TVs and Blu-ray players). In other words, it's a larger collection of content from the current providers, plus a limited degree of space shifting. For $120 a year (OK, $119.88).

That doesn't move me. I could easily see paying for content from higher-value programmers not currently available online, such as HBO and FX. And I could imagine paying for true portability -- downloadable files that could be viewed on the device of my choice. But compared with what Netflix offers for $9 a month (OK, $8.99), Hulu Plus just isn't compelling.

Of course, that's just one (parsimonious) man's opinion. What's yours?

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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