Hulu goes international (a little)

Online television streaming service adds British and Bollywood content

The Hulu service is currently only available to U.S. viewers.

The Hulu service is currently only available to U.S. viewers.

In its first move towards opening up to international audiences, Hulu has added British television shows and Bollywood movies. Hulu today announced in a blog post that the site has partnered with U.K. content distributor Digital Rights Group and the Bollywood digital distributor Saavn to bring international content to U.S. audiences.

Starting today British hit shows like Green Wing, Peep Show, Kingdom and Doc Martin are available on Hulu. The streaming site owned by NBC Universal, News Corp. and the Walt Disney Co. has also added popular films from India's Bollywood movie studios including Deewana, Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, Hera Pheri, Huluchul and Sarkar -- Hulu describes Sarkar as an homage to The Godfather.

While Hulu's new international content may only get marginal interest from American audiences, the introduction of foreign shows is Hulu's first step toward opening up its content to the world. Hulu says it is talking to as many as eight of the leading broadcast markets worldwide, according to Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content acquisition and distribution. Forssell did not say which countries Hulu us targeting first when he recently spoke with the Financial Times about Hulu's international plans.

Forsell also didn't specify what an international version of Hulu might look like. With popular content from around the world, Hulu increases its chance at popularity with international audiences. However, free and high-quality access to content from U.S. producers would also be a big draw with international audiences.

The problem is, one of the ways American television and movie producers make money is by selling their content to television stations around the world. Those international broadcasters may be concerned that the introduction of Hulu's full content library into their markets could drive down advertising rates and subscriber sales if customers can access the same material elsewhere. With that in mind, Hulu's three owners, NBC, News Corp., and Disney, may find they have conflicting interests in their dealings with international markets, making it harder to introduce Hulu's complete library to the rest of the world. It will be interesting to see if Hulu can maintain the same content library that has made it so popular in the United States, or if Hulu's international viewers will have only limited access to the site's wealth of premium content.

Hulu's public service launched in March 2008 as a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. offering free, premium content online such as Desperate Housewives, The Office, and 24. In its 18-month history, Hulu has made headlines as a legitimate rival to video-streaming giant YouTube, has added social networking features, is rumored to be working on an iPhone app, and recently added Disney as a full partner alongside NBC Universal and News Corp.

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