Hulu finally unveiled its $40-a-month cable TV competitor -- here are all the details

On Wednesday, Hulu finally unveiled its new live TV service, a cable competitor that costs $US39.99 per month.

“Hulu with live TV” works much like a regular cable or satellite TV package, except that it’s delivered over the internet to your smart TV, phone, tablet, and so on. Significantly, the interface is focused on blending the worlds of “live TV” and “on-demand” into one product, and the live TV package includes access to all the content in Hulu’s current $US7.99 offering as well. That means if you are a Hulu subscriber already, the service only costs an additional $US32 a month.

“You shouldn’t have to think about whether something is live, recorded or on demand, or care about which device you’re using,” Hulu SVP Ben Smith said in a statement about the new service.

The package of “over 50 channels” is built around deals with the four big broadcast networks, ABC, Fox, NBC, and crucially CBS, which has been absent from some early streaming TV packages. So you get all of those, plus the cable channels they own. One caveat is that local affiliate stations aren’t available in some markets because of complicated rights deals, so that’s definitely something you should check on.

Generally, the package has an impressive breadth of content for $US40 a month. It hits two major points of live TV well: sports and news. For sports fans: ESPN; CBS, NBC, and Fox Sports; and TNT. To keep up on the news, you get CNN, Fox News, and most others that you’d want. Getting the deal with Turner is a big plus for Hulu, since it means CNN, TNT, TBS, and other Turner channels are in the bundle. This was a conspicuous hole in YouTube’s live TV product, released last month for $US35.

One nifty aspect for sports fans is that Hulu allows you to follow your favourite pro or college teams, and will surface those games for you instead of you having to figure out what channel they are on.

Beyond sports and news, Hulu’s package includes Food Network, FX, Bravo, E!, USA, and National Geographic, to name a few. (Beyond the broadcast networks, Hulu has deals with Turner, A+E, and Scripps). The biggest hole here is the lack of AMC.

Here is a rundown of a few other key features of Hulu’s live TV service:

  • 50 hours of recording storage to watch shows whenever you want. If you want to upgrade to “enhanced Cloud DVR,” which gives you 200 hours and the ability to fast-forward ads, that costs an additional $US14.99 per month. That’s a significant price bump if you want to fast-forward, and is one of the flaws of the service.
  • Two simultaneous streams per account. You can also have up to six individual profiles. If you want unlimited streams inside your house, and up to three outside, you can get that for an extra $US14.99 per month.
  • Hulu’s existing $US7.99 streaming content is included for free. That means more than 3,500 TV shows and movies, and Hulu originals like recent hit “The Handmaid’s Tale.” If you are a fan of the “commercial-free” option, you can get that for an extra $US4 a month, like in the old Hulu plans.
  • Showtime is an $US8.99 per month extra. But there’s no option yet to add on HBO.

Hulu has nailed the interface, which my colleague Jeff Dunn described as “exceedingly pleasant” when he tested it, but the question will be how well the live TV product performs technically. Technical snafus have plagued many streaming TV packages in the early days, including Sling TV and DirecTV Now.

Right now, the beta of Hulu’s live TV service will run on Xbox One, Apple TV (4th Gen.), Chromecast, iOS, and Android mobile devices. But there’s no support at the moment for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, and Samsung Smart TVs, which Hulu said “will be supported soon.” Roku is a puzzling absence considering it’s the market leader in streaming boxes, and sells a bunch of smart TVs with its interface baked in.

Overall, Hulu’s new live TV package is one of the most compelling out there. A $US40 dollar price point might be low enough to lure cord-cutters into the ecosystem given the impressive breadth of content, especially in news and sports. If Hulu can get the technical performance right, its mix of price, programming, and slick interface could snag a big chunk of subscribers.

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