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商业 - 科技

Hulu面临出售难题

Dan Mitchell 2011年06月27日

几大电视网投入巨资打造了Hulu的在线视频服务,但他们似乎并不满意Hulu目前的发展。

    Hulu的股东和管理者现在想必非常沮丧。虽然观众们已开始从有线及卫星电视网络转投互联网视频,但这一趋势过于缓慢而且充满不确定性。制作商们并不是简单地将节目全部搬上互联网就万事大吉了。他们不能得罪有线及卫星电视台,因为目前只有这里才是来钱的地方。

    Hulu的股东正是节目制作商们,尽管他们在股东的位子上坐不了多久了。周三的《洛杉矶时报》(The Los Angeles Times)报道称Hulu正在寻求出售。毫无疑问,这主要是因为Hulu目前一片混乱,这些股东不仅与有线及卫星电视台冲突不断,而且与Hulu的首席执行官杰克逊•基拉尔也存在冲突。冲突的焦点集中在应该播放多少商业广告和视频服务Hulu Plus的收费标准,现在Hulu Plus的收费仅为每月8美元。

    然而,正是这些冲突同时也可能会成为出售Hulu的最大障碍。Hulu卖不出去,至少卖不出好价钱,除非迪士尼(Disney)、康卡斯特(Comcast)和新闻集团(News Corp)等股东同意就长期节目播放达成协议【普罗维登斯资本(Providence Equity Partners)也持有Hulu一定股份】。不过达成协议仅仅是将现在的棘手问题推迟而已,仍然没有人会愿意收购Hulu,除非它能继续提供免费的最新电视节目。

    不过,至少有一家股东对Hulu有意,这就是新闻集团,据报道,后者即将与Hulu达成一份节目播放协议。虽然协议细节我们还不得而知,但Hulu极有可能同意在播放新闻集团旗下福克斯广播公司(Fox Broadcasting)所有的节目时,投放更多广告。目前,Hulu在视频中插播的商业广告数量仅为一般电视节目的一半。其它股东也希望能与Hulu达成类似协议。

    基拉尔一直强调,广告少是Hulu吸引观众的主要原因之一。但股东们并不买账。最起码对它们而言,将观众吸引到Hulu并不重要,重要的是保住其所播放节目的市场价值,虽然随着技术进步,这种价值正在不可避免地下滑。

    《洛杉矶时报》报道称,股东们还提议,鉴于目前一些节目在电视上播放后第二天,Hulu就能提供,该网站应该在用户观看这些节目前,要求他们证明自己是有线或卫星电视节目的订户。否则,用户必须多等一周时间,才可以观看这些节目。

    相比于增加广告,推迟节目播放可能会造成更严重的用户流失,不过这对于改善Hulu和有线及卫星电视台之间的关系大有裨益。然而,这也可能造成Hulu更难被出售。“第二天”内容也许是Hulu最大卖点,即便是比它庞大得多的竞争对手网飞公司(Netflix)也无法做到这点。

    议时,许可费用将会迅速水涨船高。

    虽然面临种种难题,但彭博社(Bloomberg)表示,Hulu的估值也许将50倍于其收入,也就是说,将超过20亿美元。

    鉴于种种不确定性,我们很难确定哪些公司会参与竞购Hulu。不过据报道,雅虎(Yahoo)已表示有意参与竞购,而亚马逊(Amazon)自然也有可能加入竞争,因为该公司希望增加在线视频的数量。

    译者:项航

    It must be immensely frustrating to either own or manage Hulu. The viewing public is moving away from cable and satellite toward Internet viewing, but so slowly and uncertainly that programmers can't simply port all their shows online and be done with it. They have to keep the cable and satellite providers happy because for now, that's where the money is.

    And it's programmers that own Hulu, though not for long. The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday reported that Hulu is now on the block, no doubt largely because of the confusing morass of conflicts not only with cable and satellite providers, but also with Hulu's own CEO, Jason Kilar, over how many commercials to show and how much to charge for Hulu Plus, the service's premium offering that currently costs a paltry $8 a month.

    But it's those same conflicts that could make selling Hulu a big challenge. Hulu can't be sold -- at least not for a decent return -- unless it has long-term programming commitments in place from its owners: Disney (DIS), Comcast (CMCSA), and News Corp. (NWSA) (Providence Equity Partners also holds a stake). Making those commitments simply prolongs the headaches the owners are trying to relieve through a sale, but nobody will want to buy Hulu unless it still has fresh, free television shows to offer.

    Nevertheless, at least one owner, News Corp., is reportedly close to striking a programming deal with Hulu. The precise terms haven't been disclosed, but Hulu has apparently agreed to boost the amount of advertising it runs on programs owned by News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting. Currently, Hulu runs about half the amount of commercials that are run on a typical show on TV. The other owners are expecting to strike deals as well.

    Kilar has long insisted that the smaller number of ads is a major driver of viewers to Hulu. The owners aren't buying it. Or at least, it's not as important to them to drive viewers to Hulu as it is to maintain the market value of their programming, even as technology is inexorably driving that value down.

    According to the Los Angeles Times, the owners are also proposing that Hulu begin demanding the viewers prove that they are cable or satellite subscribers in before they are allowed to watch new programs on Hulu the day after they are shown on TV. Without such proof, viewers would have to wait an additional week before they could watch.

    That might do more than packing on ads to discourage viewership, but it would go a long way toward mollifying the cable and satellite providers. And yet, it might also make Hulu much harder to sell. Next-day content is perhaps the chief draw of Hulu -- it's something that even its much-larger rival Netflix doesn't do.

    Another complication: once the owners are no longer also the suppliers of programming, licensing fees will almost certainly shoot up down the road when new agreements are made.

    Nevertheless, Bloomberg reports that Hulu might be valued about 50 times earnings, or more than $2 billion.

    Given all the uncertainties, it's hard to know which companies might make a play, but Yahoo (YHOO) has reportedly already expressed interest, and Amazon (AMZN), which wants to increase its online video offerings, would also be a natural bidder.

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