The days may be numbered for Hulu's free buffet of next-day streaming TV episodes, according to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
Eisner told Bloomberg TV that Hulu will likely lose its next-day streaming rights for major network shows some time after the site is sold. Eisner's in a good position to know; Disney is a part-owner of Hulu, along with Comcast and Fox.
“The problem with Hulu is they're selling it as one thing, and the thing they're selling it as is near-term repeats of network programming,” Eisner said. “And the sellers … are selling it and taking away basically the next-day availability of their content—giving them something for a couple of years.”
Hulu is currently on the selling block for the second time, after the company failed to find a buyer in 2011. Streaming rights were reportedly a sticking point back then, as Hulu's owners didn't want to guarantee more than a couple years of programming.
From Eisner's comments, the lack of long-term streaming rights doesn't seem to be an issue anymore. In the Bloomberg interview, Eisner said that if a content-oriented company buys Hulu, he sees the site moving from repeat broadcasting to original programming, similar to what Netflix is doing with shows like House of Cards. Anyone buying Hulu now, Eisner said, is doing so “with the dream that they can be Netflix.”
To that end, Hulu has attracted at least seven bidders, including Time Warner Cable and DirecTV.
Any drastic changes to Hulu aren't likely to happen for a while. As Eisner suggested, the sale of Hulu may include a couple years of streaming rights. Even then, it's not clear whether networks would pull their shows entirely or just start hiding them behind temporary cable authentication walls, as Fox has done. The future is still murky for Hulu, but it's looking more like next-day streaming won't be a part of it.