Hulu's owners at odds over future of television

Here’s a shock: the three main corporate owners of Hulu are at odds with each other and with Hulu management over the online TV service’s basic strategy. Who could have guessed?

The Wall Street Journal reports that News Corp. (owner of Fox) and Disney (owner of ABC) want to pull some of the ad-supported shows they make available free via Hulu. They complain that the streamed shows are biting into their other, more lucrative (for now) modes of distribution – traditional TV, video on demand, reruns, DVDs. They also want to make their shows available to other online distributors like Netflix and Apple.

Meanwhile, Hulu’s management is considering turning the service into an online cable-TV network, offering live television channels, bundled channels, and video on demand.

“Hulu’s managers say tumult is natural in such a fast-changing industry,” the Wall Street Journal says. It’s even more natural when you have three different, competing networks as owners, each with different ideas about how to fit their businesses into the highly uncertain future of television.

One thing is clear: no matter how stridently some TV executives might argue that there is little or no “cord cutting” going on, people are starting to drop cable in favor of watching TV over the Internet. The question is, how do the networks make money online while still drawing revenue from their traditional venues? The Journal’s painstakingly reported account shows that the answer is far from clear, but it most likely won’t involve a distribution system owned by several competing networks.

[image via Flickr/justin]