New adventures in pay walls


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Disconcerting news, Hulu users: Broadcasting and Cable reports that new board member (and News Corp. Deputy Chairman) Chase Carey says Hulu must start charging for at least some of its content. The change could come as soon as next year, he told B&C’s Claire Atkinson, although he also said that the pay wall might be limited only to special or advance programming. Said Carey, ‘Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.’ (Hat tip to Gizmodo and TV Week.)

This isn’t a huge surprise; my colleagues Dawn Chmielewski and Meg James reported back in May that Hulu was considering tiers of programming -- some free and some paid -- to attract some cable networks that had been reluctant to share content with the site. (They explored the idea further earlier this month, in the wake of Comcast’s talks to buy Hulu co-founder NBC Universal.) But it reflects how eager broadcasters are to collect money from distributors to supplement what they take in from advertisers. And if the fees were limited to programming that wasn’t otherwise available online, or to features that Hulu hadn’t previously offered, then they wouldn’t seem inherently unreasonable. That doesn’t mean people would pay them, of course -- they have plenty of other ways to be entertained online for free. But at least Hulu could make the case for the fees with a straight face.


Meanwhile, out in Long Island, Newsday -- a tabloid that Cablevision bought last year from the struggling Tribune Co. for $650 million -- announced that it would charge non-subscribers $5 a week to read the paper online. Pricey! But the paper will be free to Cablevision’s broadband subscribers too. Given that Cablevision says 75% of the Long Island market subscribes to Newsday or its broadband service, if not both, there aren’t many local readers left to alienate. Still, you have to wonder why any company thinks it can increase the price of a product without increasing its value to customers. Oh, wait -- Cablevision is a cable company.... Never mind.

(Full disclosure: Tribune Co. owns the Los Angeles Times.)

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times’ Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey