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Hulu Eyes Cheaper Live TV Bundles That Strip Out Entertainment Cable Networks

Hulu wants to cater to a new crowd of pay-TV “cord-shavers” with stripped-down, less-expensive live television bundles that include sports, news and on-demand content — dropping linear entertainment networks to save costs.

Hulu CEO Randy Freer sketched out the concept in an interview with The Information published Tuesday, saying that the skinnier bundles would be designed to appeal to a cohort of price-sensitive users and prove more profitable by cutting out carriage fees for multiple networks. Instead, Hulu subscribers would have access to on-demand programming licensed from cable networks.

The idea goes to the heart of shifting TV viewing behavior: How much value do “live” entertainment channels really provide, when it’s more convenient to watch more shows on VOD? The company has been in talks with programmers about introducing skinnier bundles, a Hulu rep said.

At this point, Hulu doesn’t have any specifics on what the pricing of the stripped-down live TV bundle might cost, except that it would be less than its current $40-per-month plan for a bouquet of 50-plus national cable networks and local TV stations. Nor is Hulu providing a ballpark for when skinnier bundles could be launched or which networks would be excluded.

In a possible prelude to Hulu’s move to extra-skinny live TV, the company inked a deal with Discovery last month that boosted its VOD lineup with a total of almost 4,000 episodes of shows from the non-fiction programmer. The deal also covers live TV carriage for five Discovery networks, set to be added to the regular Hulu With Live TV bundle in December.

Here’s a guess about what a “skinnier” Hulu bundle could include: local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC TV stations, along with CNN, CNBC, ESPN/ESPN2, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Sports, HLN, Cheddar and Turner’s TBS and TNT (which include a fair amount of live sports). Also potentially in the lineup could be sports nets like CBS Sports Network, NBCSN, Golf Channel and Big Ten Network, or regional sports networks.

What might be cut out of a sports-and-news-centered Hulu skinny bundle: channels like A&E, Adult Swim, Boomerang, Bravo, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney Channel, E!, Food Network, Freeform, FX, FYI, HGTV, History, National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, Oxygen, Sprout, Syfy, TCM, TLC and Viceland.

Note that Hulu’s regular $40 live TV bundle does not include networks from AMC Networks and Viacom.

Last month, Hulu said it surpassed 1 million subscribers for the live-TV bundle (which includes full access to Hulu’s VOD library). The company launched Hulu With Live TV in May 2017.

Meanwhile, the future of Hulu’s ownership remains in question. Disney will obtain 21st Century Fox’s 30% stake in the joint venture, under the two companies’ broader pact, giving the Mouse House 60% ownership. Comcast/NBCUniversal is the other 30% owner (AT&T’s WarnerMedia owns the remaining 10%). Industry observers have speculated that Comcast could try to sell its stake to Disney and potentially pull back rights to NBCU programming for a Comcast-built streaming service.

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