Well, here's one way to get people to start paying for content they're used to getting for free: Charge them for access via a specific device.
Rumors are running wild that web TV powerhouse Hulu is working on a deal to charge users for accessing the website... if they access it via an Apple iPad.
Hulu has been downright desperate to figure out a way to get people to pay for its service for months. It currently makes money by charging for video advertising during its programming, but viewership still doesn't compare to that of regular TV programming, so the cash from ad sales is low.
Meanwhile, executives would love to see revenue pouring in from non-traditional sources, and for better or worse, that means you and me. But with myriad free video sites on the web, getting viewers to pay for video hasn't been easy. In fact, it may very well be impossible to get someone to pay a buck or two to watch something on a tiny screen on their PC when it's free on the 42-inch set in the living room.
Enter the iPad. While the jury's out as to whether the world will embrace the device, it's unique in that it's not a computer. Specifically, it doesn't run Flash, which means all of those embedded videos that litter the web simply won't play on the device. iPad users who visit Hulu via a web browser will pretty much be out of luck.
Solution: A Hulu app created specifically for the iPad... and one that you have to pay for (and probably keep paying for over time, the good old cable TV model). (Think YouTube for the iPhone, but with a subscription fee attached.)
It's a risky strategy, but it's one that just might be crazy enough to work. The design and portability of the iPad (or any tablet) make it compelling as an always-at-the-ready television, and 3G models mean viewers can catch their shows anywhere, in the kitchen while dinner's cooking or on the bus to work. The larger screen offers a much more compelling viewing experience than watching TV on a cell phone, and even on handsets we are seeing more and more interest in video broadcasting, so the interest is there, at least.
Meanwhile, Hulu wants to target phones and standard TVs with some sort of broadcasting technology... though how it makes it to the TV without cannibalizing the networks that actually own it remains a big question.