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Hulu may soon offer live TV, including sports

Hulu is reportedly looking into offering live-streaming content from a handful of cable channels for about $40 per month. (Dan Goodman/AP)
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Hulu's take on the skinny TV bundle may be coming soon to a screen near you.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the online streaming service is looking into offering live-streaming content from a handful of cable channels as part of a service that could cost about $40 per month. Hulu is owned by Fox, Disney and NBCUniversal; the Journal report said that Fox and Disney are close to closing deals to offer their channels through the service. That would give subscribers access to ABC, the Disney Channel and ESPN as well as Fox News and "national and regional sports channels," the report said.

The new service could launch in the first quarter of 2017 and would also include a digital DVR service, the Journal said. The New York Times reported the service may be announced next week as Hulu makes its annual pitch to advertisers. Hulu could not immediately be reached for comment.

For consumers, Hulu's reported move would offer yet another choice in the streaming world. According to a December survey from the Pew Research Center, 1 in 7 Americans have canceled their cable or satellite subscription. A report done around the same time by eMarketer suggests that the rate at which Americans cut the cable cord is growing. In fact, the firm forecast that the number of Americans subscribing to cable or satellite television will drop below 100 million by the end of 2016.

Many companies have targeted cord-cutters. But the landscape has become confusing. It can be very difficult to figure out which service carries the content you want. Also, content agreements with streaming services expire from month to month, sometimes leaving consumers with a subscription that no longer gets them the programming that they want. And some channels, such as HBO, offer their programming both as standalone services and within bundles. All of those subscription options can add up over time.

Given its expected price, the Hulu package would be a competitor for other services that offer a mix of on-demand and live content such as Sony's $30-per-month PlayStation Vue and Dish's $20-per-month Sling TV. Both offer a basic package of channels, with the option to add additional channels for an extra monthly fee.

Neither service has racked up the subscriber numbers of Netflix or even Hulu — although they launched only last year. But the opportunity to see some shows live has some appeal to consumers — particularly sports fans — who may want something more than an on-demand library.

Working out the deals to provide such a service is not easy. Apple was said to be on the verge of announcing a similar service for its Apple TV set-top box last year, but those plans fell through. Hulu, with its close ties to the networks, may stand a far better chance of making these deals work.

However, Hulu will still need to offer its own original programming to stand out from the pack, said Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. "Fox and Disney content will be a very strong beginning for the new service. However, since that programming can be obtained in other ways, Hulu will need to do more than offer Fox and Disney content."

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