Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu Plays Along With Apple’s New Rules. Who’s Next?

Apple’s new subscription rules could have posed a problem for services like Hulu. But when Steve Jobs changed his mind earlier this month, life got a lot easier.

Here’s the old version of the Hulu Plus subscription app for the iPad:

And here’s the new version, built to comply with Apple edicts that kick in at the end of the month:

Easy, right? All Hulu had to do was strip out the link that sent potential subscribers to its Web site, because Apple’s new rule will ban “apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the app.”

That means that the app can no longer function as an effective advertising tool for the video service, which is a bummer for Hulu (which is owned by Comcast’s NBC, Disney’s ABC and News Corp.’s Fox; News Corp. also owns this Web site). It’d be quite useful to offer a smattering of free content on the app, then encourage users who want more stuff to click through to to pony up $8 a month.

But that’s much better than the previous choice Apple offered app developers that wanted to sell access to content: Use Apple’s in-house purchase system — and give Apple 30 percent of all sales that flow from that — or don’t do it at all.

Lots of developers have no problem using Apple’s system, which gives them access to a customer base of 225 million people. But others won’t want to give up that much revenue.

So now we’ll see how other content companies that currently use external links in their apps decide to play it over the next couple weeks.

My hunch is that digital video and music companies like Netflix and Rhapsody will follow Hulu’s lead and drop their “buy” buttons. The New York Times has already said it would work with Apple’s rules, but that was back when it announced its paywall/subscription plan in March, when it had a different set of options. I asked Times officials about their plans 10 days ago, and they declined to comment.

Also not commenting: The Wall Street Journal — which again, like this Web site, is owned by News Corp. The Journal hasn’t said a peep about its Apple subscription plans, which seems a bit odd, given that News Corp. and Apple rolled out the first iteration of Apple’s subscription offering, via The Daily, back in February.

Rival business daily the Financial Times, meanwhile, has quite clearly signaled what it plans to do: It has built an HTML5 Web app so it can control every part of the subscription process itself.

Then there’s Amazon, which seems to be one of the clear targets of Apple’s revised rules — note that they specifically rule out the use of a “buy” button that goes to a Web site to purchase a digital book. Hard to believe that Amazon will get rid of its Kindle iOS apps altogether, since they’re a key feature of the Kindle ecosystem. But dropping the app’s “buy” button will be a real drag for the bookseller, too.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle