A year after announcing its plans, Hulu is finally ready to start streaming live TV with a beta that's opening up today. Hulu with Live TV is a $40 bundle combining 50+ channels and 50 hours of cloud DVR space with the company's existing streaming service, ready to take on incumbents like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now in the battle for cord-trimming customers. In "many markets" that includes the local broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) complete with live affiliate programming, but all customers can expect six individual profiles and up to two simultaneous streams at once.
Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins announced the launch this morning during the company's annual Upfront presentation, mentioning that it will feature channels like ESPN, Fox Sports, FX, USA, Viceland, CNN, Fox News and more. Extra cost add-ons include boosting the cloud DVR with 200 hours of storage, or "unlimited screens" streaming that lets users watch video simultaneously on as many devices as they want at their home, as well as up to three devices anywhere else. Both features cost $15 per month on their own, or they can be had together for $20. Beyond that, no commercials on the Hulu library is still $4, while Showtime is a flat $9 add-on and other premium channels are "coming soon."
The actual live TV experience is based on the redesigned Hulu UI we saw at CES. Like the rest of Hulu, it will eventually be available across living room and mobile devices, but at launch live TV will work on iOS/Android, Apple TV, Xbox One and Chromecast. Platforms specifically mentioned as coming soon include Roku, Samsung smart TVs and Amazon Fire TV.
The interface is driven by features like the Watchlist and recommendations Hulu has been pushing over the last couple of years. As the intro video (above) explains, while you're watching, a simple push or swipe up on your remote control is enough to let you add the show that's currently playing to your favorites, or search for something else. Mixed with TV channels, the algorithms can sort out your favorite shows or channels, and make sure they show up first. Like everyone else in the space, Hulu is trying to figure out the future of TV, and once it's live we'll be able to try it out.
Just on its stats, the service lines up well with the competition, which all have their own drawbacks. Cable or satellite TV is generally more expensive and restrictive, although it's a mature platform and you know what you're getting vs. this beta launch. DirecTV Now has plans that range in price from $35 to $70 per month, but it lacks a DVR feature entirely. A similar package from PlayStation Vue can range between $35 and $65, but to watch on TV you will need one of Sony's consoles (update: or Apple TV, Fire TV, Android TV and Chromecast). Sling TV is probably the most flexible in terms of devices and subscription packages, but its DVR is still in beta and doesn't work on every channel. The just-launched YouTube TV features a solid user interface and and unlimited storage for $35, but it only works in a few cities, has less channels than the competition and you'll need a Chromecast to watch it on your TV.
To its advantage, Hulu has an established streaming platform and apps (though we'll see how stable things are once it adds live video), a simplified pricing structure and a built-in video service with exclusives like The Handmaid's Tale and The Path.
Anyone interested in signing up for the Hulu Live TV beta right away can do so on Hulu's website, which should also have more details and a full channel listing.
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