Friday, September 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm.

Why isn’t Apple in the running to buy Hulu?

Hulu is for sale, and Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Dish Network — which owns Blockbuster — are the reported bidders. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be interested.

First, for the sake of argument, why might Apple want Hulu?

  • Apple has been interested in offering a subscription-based video service in the past. Buying Hulu, which operates one of those, could be a quick entry point.
  • Apple would get whatever exclusive streaming contracts that Hulu’s current owners — Fox, ABC, and NBC — are offering.
  • Apple could keep those deals — and all of Hulu — out of Google’s hands. (With the most cash to spend upfront and on content deals in the future, Google is arguably the leading bidder, though there are concerns about government approval.) Also, Apple has the money to buy Hulu without blinking an eye.
  • Hulu is popular! If it became an Apple exclusive, it could potentially help sell more iPads, iPhones, iPods, and Apple TVs, which is how Apple makes money.

Decent starting points. But there are also good explanations for why Apple isn’t chasing Hulu.

  • Hulu is primarily an ad-supported business, and Apple doesn’t love ads. Maybe Hulu’s ad folks and the iAd people could get along great, but it would be a big shift for Apple to go deep into ad-supported media.
  • Hulu doesn’t fit the pattern of Apple acquisitions. Apple typically buys small companies for talent, technology, or intellectual property. It usually shuts down what it buys, or integrates it into its own products. There would be a lot to wind down with Hulu.
  • Apple doesn’t need Hulu’s website, brand, audience, technology, Flash video player, or staff. (Hulu CEO Jason Kilar would be a catch, if there was a job for him at Apple, and if he wanted to work there. If I were Kilar, however, I’d want to take a year off and then do a startup.)
  • Even Hulu’s streaming deals may not be worth anything to Apple. Apple already has relationships with Fox, ABC, and NBC. And let’s be honest: Hulu is not that disruptive to real television, which is what Apple would want to go after. It’s mostly network shows and old seasons. Not same-as-live, not many cable shows, no live sports, etc. If Apple really wanted to make a statement, it would go after the NFL deal when DirecTV’s contract expires in 2014.

Overall, it seems to make more sense for Apple to continue to support Hulu through its various platforms than to own it. Google, on the other hand, would be an ideal buyer for Hulu, if it could get the deal approved.

Also: How Apple can fix iAd