The soon-to-be-launched service will now carry all four major networks.

By Michal Lev-Ram
May 1, 2017

When Hulu’s live TV service launches later this month, it will be able to boast that it offers real-time programming from all four major broadcast networks—Fox, ABC, CBS and now, NBC. The latter network has been negotiating with Hulu for some time, and the two sides announced the newly-inked deal on Monday morning.

“NBC Universal is home to many of today’s leading sports, news, entertainment and lifestyle networks – brands that not only draw large audiences but also drive pop culture,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said in a release issued by the company. “With this agreement in place, Hulu will soon provide an affordable, complete live TV package that includes all four major broadcast networks, the top-rated cable news channels, a massive sports offering and our deep existing premium streaming library for under $40.”

The long-awaited agreement gives Hulu access to NBC- and Telemundo-owned stations like USA, Syfy, Bravo, E!, MSNBC and, of course, NBC and Telemundo. The deal brings the streaming service’s total expected live TV channel lineup to more than 50. Specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though it is assumed that Hulu will pay some kind of “carriage fees” for access to NBC’s channels, in addition to an ad revenue split. The agreement also includes a “framework” for licensing NBC’s programming for on-demand viewing.

For the past 10 years, that kind of on-demand, “catch-up” viewing of existing network shows was virtually all that Hulu was known for. That’s partly a function of Hulu’s ownership: In fact, NBC, part of Comcast Corp., is a co-owner of the company. So are ABC parent The Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and Time Warner. (CBS Corp. is a content partner, but not an owner.) The unusual structure of Hulu has set it apart from other new entertainment players like Netflix and Amazon—tech companies that do not have legacy TV conglomerates as owners—in both good and bad ways.

More recently, Hulu has ventured beyond its (and its owners’) comfort zone. It has invested more in its own original content. (Its latest original series, The Handmaid’s Tale, has received acclaim from critics.) Now it is set to launch a live TV offering that it hopes will help it gain more subscribers—and hold on to its existing 12 million viewers.

The challenge? Other live services, including Dish Network’s Sling TV and Google’s YouTube TV, already exist, and offer much of the same fare, with a few minor differences. Hulu hopes it can differentiate by offering a complete suite of live and archival content, packaged with an easy-to-use design and interface. Adding NBC to the lineup is a necessary milestone, and brings Hulu’s live TV offering one step closer to its launch.

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