Could Hulu come to Australia?


blog Could popular US video streaming site Hulu finally allow Australians onto its hallowed platform, after years of region-blocking the nation’s IP addresses? Yes, says the Sydney Morning Herald, although the claim isn’t exactly fleshed out:

“FREE-TO-AIR TV operators say an industry-wide online catch-up TV service is still on the cards, despite Nine’s decision to go it alone and strike a deal with the US online portal Hulu.”

We’ve seen this story before, of course — back in November last year the Australian reported that PBL Media, which operates the Nine Network, was finalising talks with Hulu over a joint venture arrangement in Australia.

Far more interesting than these swirling rumours, as Lifehacker puts it, is an analysis by marketing guru Ben Shepherd about what it would actually take for the claimed joint venture company to actually make enough money to justify the local investment.

Personally, I think the question for the big TV networks, as well as Hulu itself, is more related to the cost of not entering the Australian internet television market.

There is no doubt that Australians — including young people, of which I can still claim to be one, being a month shy of thirty — are increasingly going online for their video. Setting aside the nation’s illicit love affair with BitTorrent and the Pirate Bay, most of the networks already have some form of online offering billed as “catch-up TV”, and many of us also spend a great deal of time watching YouTube or other forms of online video streamed through platforms like Boxee; even translated anime streamed from Japan.

DVDs are also popular; as the success of mail order rental services like Quickflix demonstrates. And, of course, many Australians are already using proxies and other nifty software hacks to watch Hulu despite the region-blocking controls the service has put in place.

Quite frankly, right now, many other young people of my generation just don’t watch much actual free to air television at all. When services like Beem get off the ground, we’ll watch even less. That’s the reality for the free to air television networks, and Hulu is helping to address the problem somewhat in the US ($240 million in revenues isn’t anything to sneeze at).

Shepherd notes one of Hulu’s biggest challenges in Australia, if it launches, will be to generate high levels of consumer demand — enough, he believes, to turn it into a $50 million business within 18 months. I’m not sure if those numbers are possible. But there is no doubt that huge levels of consumer demand are already there.

Image credit: Screenshot of Hulu website


  1. The problem with Hulu (and the BBC’s iPlayer) when it launches here is that it is going to be crippled by local broadcasters so that they still get first run of all the popular programs.

    I cannot see Ch.9 allowing Hulu to air episodes of popular TV programs days, weeks or even months ahead of their FTA broadcast.

    Not to mention that at the moment, Hulu doesn’t have complete archives of shows it streams, instead only have back episodes of the latest season, or even only the last 5 episodes to air.

    A streaming servie needs to be complete and needs to have new content placed on it in a timely manner. Currently – either a proposed launch here, or what they currently do in the US – Hulu just isn’t cutting it.

    • I’d say you’re probably right — the rights are worth too much to the local broadcasters for them to allow a fully functional Hulu to enter Australia.

      • Yup.

        I’m especially going to be disappointed by the restrictions that will (inevitably) be placed on iPlayer when it comes to things like their sports coverage. The BBC does a stellar job covering sports that get bastardised by local broadcasters here and we’re not going to be able to enjoy that.

  2. …Or maybe this is a step closer to eradicating the “delay” Australians (and others) experience in global programming.

    • I certainly believe it could be a positive step forward, Dave — as most things are in this space. Anything that helps the broadcasters open up to online, even in a small way, is helpful.

  3. We almost need a television network to basicly go “screw it” and throw out the book on how to be a Broadcaster, and completely revamp what it means to deleiver content to Australians. Because no matter how many “new” services like Hulu get to our doors, they are still going to be limited by the “big boys” from FTA television, who will fight for exclusive rights on particular programs, and fight for the ability to show it first.

    The old model is failing, I only hope that the big networks can see this before it starts to affect their bottom line.

    • hey Chris,

      the research might suggest one thing … but when I speak to most of my friends (living in metropolitan Sydney), it’s wall to wall DVDs, downloads, streams and ABC iView at the moment; the general consensus is that commercial TV offers little to many people of the younger generation.

      Is overall free to air TV consumption increasing? It could be, as your link suggests. However, this might actually just mean that overall media consumption in general is increasing, but that free to air TV’s share is still being eroded.



  4. @NightKhaos
    I think it’s a bit of a pat response to say “the old model is failing” when Ch9 for instance is forecasting a 35% rise in revenues for 2010-11, to a figure that would dwarf whatever they might earn through a Hulu-type service.

    @Renai Lemay
    “Quite frankly, right now, many other young people of my generation just don’t watch much actual free to air television at all.”
    I’m not sure it’s possible to be more wrong …

    • Failing does not automatically mean it will demise. A bridge support can fail, but that doesn’t mean the entire bridge will come crashing down. The same applies here, the big networks are failing to address the changing market quickly enough, that does not mean they will a) not find revenue and b) not adapt in the long run. It just means a bridge support has broken, and they might want to consider addressing it.

      And I don’t know what Generation Yers you’ve been talking to, but the majority of Gen Yers students I hang out with don’t watch FTA television, or if they do they merely record it and watch it later, prefering instead to get their content from the Internet because they can get better content, usually quicker to release than the FTA televsion, and instead watch what is they WANT to watch, instead of what is being broadcasted at the time.

      This is the difference he is refering to, the reason GenYs don’t watch that much FTA television: watching what you want to watch when you want to watch it, not when the Broadcasters deem it, which is kind of the point of Hulu, what this article is about, in the first place isn’t it?

  5. @NightKhaos @Renai Lemay
    I’m not talking to anyone in Gen Y (ugh), I’m looking at the research. Here’s a sample:

    In the last few years there’s been an explosion of entirely new digital TV channels, not to mention pay TV, with the result being that almost all demos are watching a lot more TV than ever, including Gen Yers. Saying Gen Yers (other than the ones you know) don’t watch much TV anymore is just wrong.

        • “they would prefer convience on-demand television to scheduled televsion. Which I think we could easily find statistics to back up.”

          The data you link to shows that 93% watch scheduled broadcast TV compared with 45% who watch streamed on demand TV. So the complete opposite of what you said

          • No it doesn’t contrict my point. It actually is just more data. It actually only shows there is a large (and increasing) demand for on-demand television. Plus this is all viewers, we’re talking specifically about Generation Y. That article doesn’t show the statistics broken down by age group. And is therefore quite limited. The picture is confusing, for example take this from the BBC:

            The data you’re looking at is on page 18. it clearly shows that in the 18-34 age group, there is a clear tread of BBC iPlayer being more popular for that age group than any other age group than with tranditional television, indicating that the streaming services are more likely to be utilised by Generation Y. However, without absolute numbers we can’t determine if it more popular than general television viewing, and again this only asked people if they USED the service, not how much.

            So… like I said you could agrue it. It’s just quite dificult cause painting an accurate picture of the situation is going to be difficult. I can find many statistics that support the idea that on-demand is prefered to scheduled broadcasting, and I can find many that remain netural, and many that even refute it. I think that we could be here all day if we try to agrue it too long, for example, in the statistics you linked, do they include DVR recording in the watching television agruement? We don’t know. However, I count DVR as “on-demand” content and not under the tranditional banner that FTA television resides.

            Which kinda brings home the point the sample you pointed to illistrates:

            “This generation will be growing up in a rapidly changing media landscape where the line between television, internet and other media will become increasingly blurred, their current media usage shows a clear preference for media that has screen based technology”

            Kinda makes you think doesn’t it?

          • I agree with all your broader points. I also agree we could be here all day arguing the toss!

            My one final point is this: even adding in all caveats about DVR time-shifting, or for that matter whether respondents considered Youtube to be on-demand viewing (I’d say not), there is no data showing that broadcast TV is in any sort of serious decline (quite the opposite) or that younger demos ‘prefer’ on demand to scheduled FTA.

            The reason there’s no data (in Oz) is because it’s not true. I work for a big Hollywood studio, running the planning/insight dept here in Australia. We spend a lot of time with longitudinal monitoring of how ppl are consuming content. We would love (paid for) downloading to be gathering serious pace, as we make much higher margin on digital product. But reality is is that it’s a small but steadily growing segment of the market, and is absolutely dwarfed by trad segments like FTA TV. This is changing, but def not as fast as people seem to imagine it is

          • “We would love (paid for) downloading to be gathering serious pace, as we make much higher margin on digital product. But reality is is that it’s a small but steadily growing segment of the market, and is absolutely dwarfed by trad segments like FTA TV. This is changing, but def not as fast as people seem to imagine it is.”

            Um … maybe this segment’s not growing in Australia because there are no paid-for options for consuming digital content, unlike in the US and UK? This is exactly what we are complaining about. If there were options, people would use them.

          • We’re getting confused here: I mean paid-for digital options, of which there are many – iTunes being the most obvious.

            In terms of ad-supported options, they also exist: iView and the other channel platforms. Of course there’s no equivalent to Hulu or Netflix, in terms of tech or content offering, but I think my main point is that even if they launched tomorrow it would take a long time before they became truly mainstream, and years before they started to overtake FTA scheduled programming.

          • Got some v fresh data on this (if anyone’s still interested) …
            From the USA, average time spent watching TV, by format, 15-18yo (i.e. Gen Y). Sample = 2,000
            Scheduled TV = 2:25
            On demand TV through STB = 0:12
            On demand TV through internet = 0:24

  6. The only shows I watch on free to air, at the time they are actually broadcast, are the 7pm ABC news and 7:30 report. Everything else is time-shifted, streamed, downloaded, rented or bought.

    Why on earth would I wait an extra two years (often longer) to watch a show in over-compressed standard definition 576i picture, crappy 2.0 sound, and filled with painful ads, when I can download shows in a matter of hours after they are broadcast in the US in pristine 720p, with no ads and 5.1 surround sound?

    As the old generation of passive TV viewers die off, so will our TV networks unless they get with the times and adapt to a new universal high definition content delivery system.

    I outright admit that I pirate TV shows, but only out of necessity. I would happily pay for them if I could access shows in a timely manor, in high definition and surround sound. Unfortunately our TV networks in Australia have gone for quantity over quality, ditching most of their high definition channels and shows in favour of multi-channelling re-runs of the same shitty SD content over and over again. It is truly pathetic when compared to what’s on offer elsewhere in the world.

    Hulu would be great, but what I REALLY want to see in Australia is Netflix. We don’t have anything even remotely comparable. My hope is that the NBN will be the catalyst for a range of new high quality video services, but it seems there are many hurdles to overcome with our TV networks and film distributors before we get access to these types of services in Australia.

  7. Maybe in about 10 years when Australian govts and isps stop the infantile attitude to anything that requires a higher bandwidth than casual browsing and email traffic. NetFlix direct their service to local Internet users only. They are not multinationals.

    In order for those companies to operate here, they would need a considerable investment incentive and a rapid change of attitude both of which are non-existant here. As they are private companies a return of investment has to be feasible. If course there is always Tivo

    Free-to-air television is completely boring for all people I know and we are not exactly in the age bracket suggested here in this thread. Baby boomers infact. Even we, prefer more immersive environments such as Worlld of Warcraft and Secondlife.

    It is actually our generation responsible for the invention of the Internet. X and Y Generation played no part – see the three part documentatary series Nerds 2.0.1

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