Hulu streams in Japan

02 Sep 2011

ITEM: OTT video service Hulu has made good on its promise to expand outside the US, starting with Japan.

Hulu Japan launched a new subscription-only service Thursday, which offers unlimited access to hundreds of feature films and episodes from previous seasons of American TV series for ¥1,480 (around €13.53) a month.

Subscribers will also be able to access Hulu Japan via a multitude of Internet-ready devices, from PCs, tablets and smartphones to connected TVs (namely Panasonic Viera HDTVs for now) and – in the near future – Blu-ray players and gaming/entertainment consoles like Sony’s PlayStation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. As in the US, accounts travel from device to device (so you can start watching a show on a connected TV, and finish watching it on your smartphone, for example).

Hulu said that it has entered into an exclusive mobile marketing partnership with NTT DoCoMo for the launch, the details of which will be announced later. (Note: that doesn’t mean only DoCoMo customers can watch Hulu – anyone can subscribe via the website and watch via any cellco or ISP in the country).

Hulu also says its Japan service is operated and managed locally via a dedicated team in Tokyo, rather than simply granting Japanese users access to its US service.

However, the content line-up is chiefly from US-based content producers such as CBS, NBCUniversal International Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company (Japan) and Warner Bros.

Some bloggers have raised eyebrows at Hulu’s decision to launch with no local content at all, although Hulu said it will “rapidly” add local and regional content to the service over time.

Hulu’s expansion to Japan has been expected for some time, but inevitably bloggers are picking up on the obvious differences from the US service, particularly the lack of a free, ad-subsidized version, and the high price tag (the US premium service is only $8.00 a month, although it is also ad-supported, whereas Hulu Japan is completely ad-free).

According to an FAQ on the Hulu Japan website, Hulu says only that the subscription-only/no ads model is “specifically designed the service to meet an existing need in the Japanese consumer market” and “uniquely and specifically address a need in Japan.”

The other question mark for Hulu Japan is the timing. It’s wholly owned and operated by Hulu, whose co-owners (NBCUniversal, News Corp, The Walt Disney Company and Providence Equity Partners) are currently looking to sell it off, which has sparked off a bidding war that has reportedly attracted big names like Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and Dish. What an eventual selloff might mean for Hulu Japan may depend on who the eventual buyer turns out to be.

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