Mobile Hulu might cost money

Hulu’s executives have been mumbling about a paid service for some time now, and Apple’s iPad could be the first device to see it.

MediaMemo reports that a subscription model for Hulu seems likely on the iPad, according to unnamed sources, including an executive with one of Hulu’s parent networks. The existing Web site, which hosts free shows from NBC, Disney and Fox, is losing money, so charging for iPad access could be a way to help the site turn a profit.

However, Hulu and its owners still haven’t ironed out the details of its premium plan. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that the site may give visitors free access to the five most recent episodes of a show, and then charge $5 per month for access to the archives. MediaMemo’s report suggests that the plan is still up in the air.

Mobile Hulu might cost money

It’s not clear whether a paid Hulu will come to other mobile devices, but it seems likely given the way one executive talks about the site’s business model. Whereas Hulu is currently a one-screen device (the computer), it could expand to a three-screen device (including television and mobile), with users paying for the privilege.

The problem is that Hulu’s dug itself into a hole with its free Web site. Theoretically, the only thing preventing you from watching Hulu on mobile devices is their lack of Flash support, and that’s bound to change soon. So if Hulu wants to require payment on mobile platforms supporting Flash, it’ll have to find a way to block them, as it has with Boxee’s set-top software. And that’s just silly. Of course, the iPad and iPhone, which may never support Flash, will require some sort of workaround, but the same logic applies: If I can watch this content for free on my computer, what’s so special about my TV and phone that I can’t do the same?

Hulu may never answer that question, and instead hope that people do pay for mobile and TV access, but I hope those services come with extra content beyond what the site already offers, so it’s at least worth paying for.