Hulu just took a beating, due to a nice chess move by Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX).
Originally banded together by 20th Century Fox/ News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA), The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSK), the owner of NBC Universal Television Group, Hulu was designed to take on Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) in the streaming market. It was intended to use the greatest piece of leverage the studios had: ownership rights to the content.
Netflix’s success and current challenges
Netflix had the foresight to license old content from the studios which rarely got any air time and built its library and membership base with it. DISH Network Corp (NASDAQ:DISH), current owner of the defunct Blockbuster franchise, complained that it was unable to compete as Netflix had gotten a sweetheart of a deal that was largely based on it being the only bidder for the content at the time. Oh, the advantages of being first to market.
But guess what? Sweetheart deals for Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) are a thing of the past. In an ominous sign of things to come and the lack of leverage that Netflix actually has, Viacom sold the rights to its content to a higher bidder in the form of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) when its contract with Netflix expired. This caused me to cancel my Netflix account for reasons that we’ll call “South Park Withdrawal.”
Hulu: The studio’s content cartel. Want to watch the latest episode of Modern Family? To do so legally, you must subscribe to Hulu Plus, paying the same amount as Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX), but you’re also forced to watch commercials as well, generating additional profits for the cartel.
The only reason to subscribe to the inferior service, and I do mean inferior, was the content.
The owners of Hulu could have literally starved Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) from all their hits, kept it for themselves, and slowly built their subscriber base.
In cartels, however, the participants are rarely team players. Like some countries in OPEC selling more than their allotted share of oil as prices rise, Fox gave Netflix the rights to New Girl. Though exact terms have not been disclosed, the Los Angeles Times is reporting the agreement will cost Netflix a price of high six-figures per episode.
Of course, Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) might not come out and say it, but I am certain that this was not only about getting to the rights to the no. 1 rated comedy show for young women aged 18-34. It was also a chess move designed to weaken Hulu. If Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), or even Apple (with Apple TV likely searching for content) suddenly wanted to pay an arm and a leg for a hit show like Modern Family, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) will follow suit and similarly do what it’s in own best short-term self interest rather than build the power of the collective cartel. It’s understandable, of course, since not all content is created equal.