Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why Comcast Will Stay Hands Off Hulu, for Now

hulusuperbowlHulu and its broadcast TV owners have been pretty clear about their interest in creating a premium/subscription offering for the free site. Conventional wisdom is that we’ll see something early next year.

Does Comcast (CMCSA) have other plans? COO Steve Burke made it seem so this morning, when he told analysts that a “Hulu Premium” was “certainly not in the cards.”

An odd comment to make given that 1) Team Hulu’s premium plans didn’t slow down once news of the GE (GE)/Comcast deal broke, and 2) Comcast won’t own NBC, and thus its stake in Hulu, for another year or so.

Burke did go out of his way to say that he liked NBCU’s strategy of putting its broadcast shows up for free via Hulu, while keeping cable programming, which it sells to people like Comcast (CMCSA), more or less off of the Web.*

Of course he does! That’s the rationale behind the company’s “On Demand Online” plan, whereby cable programming is offered on the Web only to cable subscribers.

I asked Burke to clear this up during a media Q&A call this morning and he gave me an extended nonanswer/walk-back that amounted to something like actually, you know, we don’t actually own NBC, so we don’t have anything to do with Hulu, which we think is great, by the way. And then he kicked the question to NBC CEO Jeff Zucker, who offered up a nonanswer of his own about not wanting to discuss roadmaps, etc.

My hunch here: Burke would like a mulligan on this one. And Hulu’s short-term plans haven’t changed at all.

But down the road, things may very well get interesting: For starters, note that NBC’s exclusive Web licensing deal with Hulu (which is actually only sort of exclusive, but more on that later) expires in the spring of 2011, which could be within a few months of the close of the Comcast deal. And recall that Comcast was one the parties hollering loudly at Disney (DIS) not to sign on with Hulu earlier this year.

Still, I’d be surprised if Comcast makes a major overhaul with Hulu as soon as it gets a chance. The company is going to spend the next year promising politicians and voters that it’s not going to use its clout to cut off anyone’s access to anything. So to pull back on a wildly popular Web site would make for difficult optics, as they say.

At first, that is.

Related note: I can sadly confirm that Comcast does indeed intend to rebrand its awkwardly named “On Demand Online” service, which is supposed to roll out nationwide within weeks, with the infinitely worse “Xfinity” moniker.

As in “Fancast Xfinity TV” and “Xfinity.com,” as Broadcasting & Cable first reported last night.

Ugh. All I can say is that I used to refer to the whole thing as “Web TV You’ll Need to Pay to See” and got guff from the folks in Philly, who thought that was misleading. But it’s accurate, and it is way, way better than the new option.

*Sort of: NBC keeps most of its cable offerings off of Hulu, but not off of the Web. You can’t see last night’s episode of “Top Chef” (Goodbye, Jen!) on the joint-venture site, but you can see it on NBC-owned Bravo’s site.


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