Hulu Gets NBC Cable Channels in Test of Online Service

  • Addition of networks suggest progress in talks ahead of launch
  • CBS, ABC, Fox already have deals with Hulu for new offering

Hulu LLC, the video-streaming company, added Comcast Corp.’s NBC cable networks to a new live online TV service that consumers are testing, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Cable networks, including Bravo and E!, began appearing on the service Friday, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the accord hasn’t been announced. The parties have yet to clinch a deal to include NBC channels, including the flagship broadcast network, when the service is sold to the public in the next couple months. The addition of the cable outlets is progress in that direction.

NBC is the lone holdout among the major broadcast networks -- and the only one owned by a cable provider. Comcast has 22.5 million pay-TV subscribers. While the owners of CBS, ABC and Fox have encouraged new pay-TV services to enter the market, NBC’s owner could lose customers to Hulu and similar online TV services.

Hulu plans to offer customers more than 40 live channels for less than $40 a month, according to the company. The package will include its existing on-demand service, which offers reruns of popular shows like “This Is Us” and “Blackish,” as well as original programming like “The Path” and “Casual.”

Hulu is looking to build a strong program lineup as it steps into a field of new online TV packages that already includes Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV, AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue from Sony Corp. and competes with existing cable and satellite providers. Google’s YouTube also plans to introduce a paid live TV service in the next few months.

Hulu is combining the on-demand experience so many customers like on Netflix Inc. and the current version of Hulu with the live sports people watch on TV -- without the cost or clutter of a traditional pay-TV package. If Hulu can get NBC, it would have the most-watched broadcast TV channels in the U.S., the cable outlets they also own, as well as networks like CNN and TBS from Time Warner Inc. and lifestyle programming from A+E Networks. 

Hulu is owned by Walt Disney Co., which is the parent of ABC, as well as 21st Century Fox Inc., Comcast and Time Warner. Comcast is limited in its involvement in Hulu’s management under the terms of its 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal.

Inclusion of NBC cable channels in the so-called beta-testing period advances Hulu’s efforts by ensuring the service will be ready to offer the networks if an accord can be reached by the time the product is formally introduced.

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