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Hulu 'puts UK launch back on agenda'

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Hulu
Hulu, the US video on-demand provider owned by News Corp, Disney and NBC Universal, has reportedly put plans for a UK launch back on the agenda.

According to The Financial Times, the company wants to bring its new subscription service Hulu Plus to the British and Japanese markets.

Hulu Plus enables viewers to watch box sets of programmes such as Glee and Family Guy on a range of devices for the monthly fee of $9.99 (£6.60).

The service has proved hugely popular in the US since its launch last week, attracting thousands of subscribers. The Hulu application for iPhone and iPad was also the most downloaded service in Apple's App Store in the first six days after its release.

Hulu has apparently been working on plans for an international launch of Hulu Plus for several months, and has now identified the UK and Japan as markets where its free website and subscription model could gain the most traction.

The company previously held lengthy talks with ITV about launching Hulu in the UK under a shared equity deal. However, those talks broke down earlier in the year, leading to Hulu shelving its UK launch plans.

A major challenge still facing the international expansion of Hulu will be the complicated rights deals around content on the service, which usually restrict access purely to domestic users.

However, Hulu chief executive Jason Kilar expressed his belief that the US model could be replicated elsewhere. He said: "We won't be satisfied until this is a global service."

The firm has agreed deals with various consumer electronics groups to bring Hulu Plus to a range of connected devices. The service will soon be made available on Samsung IP-enabled TVs and Sony's PS3 in the US, along with plans to launch it on Microsoft's Xbox 360 console next year.

"We want to work with any screen connected with the internet," said Kilar.

"We want to make sure that our focus is on serving an unmet need with broadcast content."

Kilar is convinced that traditional pay-TV companies and online TV aggregators like Hulu can coexist in the same space. He said that Hulu would never compete with pay-TV operators for sports rights deals or premium content for their linear channels.

"It's inaccurate to consider Hulu as a substitute for cable or pay-TV services," he said.

"You have to think of Hulu to a smartphone as cable TV is to a laptop. This is about a need that's going unmet."

The international launch plans could also be affected by NBC Universal's imminent $30bn takeover by US cable operator Comcast.

Some Hulu shareholders have privately expressed concern about Comcast viewing Hulu as a rival and therefore seeking to restrict its growth.

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