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Hulu Comes to Cable TV, Which Is Fine With Cable TV

Interesting, but not threatening.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Cablevision announced today that it will sell subscriptions to Hulu, the streaming TV service.

That’s interesting. And it’s been a long time coming. But don’t mistake this as any sign of significant change in the TV Industrial Complex: It’s just a matter of a TV distributor and the TV networks adding another revenue stream, without shaking up their core business.

The press release Hulu and Cablevision put out is frustratingly short on actual details, like the actual price Cablevision will charge or when it will sell it. But the two companies did confirm that the service will be the equivalent of Hulu Plus — the one Hulu already sells for $8 a month.

So that makes this easy to understand: If you want to stream prime-time shows that have already appeared on TV, with commercials, you can sign up for Hulu Plus on the company’s website or via digital distributors like iTunes or, eventually, via Cablevision.

That’s it. You’re not getting anything you couldn’t get elsewhere, and Hulu and the programmers that supply it aren’t cannibalizing any part of their existing business. In other words: It’s not nearly as important as HBO’s decision to make HBO available to people who don’t have pay TV subscriptions — a move that really could prompt people to cut their pay TV subscriptions or keep them from signing up for one in the first place.

This is the first pay TV distribution deal Hulu has struck, but it has been headed in this direction for some time. And it already had more limited tie-ups with some pay TV distributors and networks by acting as an “authentication” service. That means that some networks, like Fox, would make their programming available on the “free” version of Hulu to customers who could prove they have TV subscriptions via services like Dish or Verizon.

The biggest change for Hulu came years ago, when the TV networks that own the service (Fox, ABC and NBC*) decided they would pull back on Hulu’s initial promise — last night’s TV, on the Web, for free — and create various kinds of windows designed to protect their distribution fees and the rest of their existing business.

That makes sense in the short term, but in the long run I think they’re just asking video watchers to go look for other stuff to watch.

A more interesting move for the pay TV providers like Cablevision would be to sell Netflix alongside their other TV offerings, since Netflix really does threaten the existing TV business. Years ago that would have seemed unlikely. But now, as pay TV providers morph into broadband Internet providers, that seems more doable.

*NBC is owned by Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, which owns Re/code.

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