Hulu’s live TV service to launch by mid-May, sources say

Hulu has publicly said that its new live TV streaming service will launch sometime this spring, but the company is now telling staff internally that the launch date being targeted is the first week of May, sources tell TechCrunch. The launch will additionally coincide with the arrival of Hulu’s new user experience, shown off earlier this year at CES.

However, we understand that the “first week of May” is definitely considered a rolling target. Hulu doesn’t have to launch then, and may choose to push it back further in the month.

Despite the internal communication – which we’ve seen – claiming the “first week of May” launch, we’ve also heard that the chatter among employees is that consumers will likely get the service around mid-May. In addition, other sources familiar with Hulu’s launch plans have confirmed that mid-May is just as likely as earlier in the month. It could even end up being the third week.

In other words, “mid-May” doesn’t translate to a May 15th launch.

However, the month of May – in general – is definitely a go. That could be what many were guessing already given that  the publicly promised time frame “spring” sounds like an April or May launch. But spring actually ends on June 21st here in the U.S., even though many people think of June as being summer.

Hulu currently has a beta test underway, which is likely contributing to the launch date flexibility, we’d wager. Like all betas, the goal is to solicit feedback from early users as well as identify bugs, ahead of a public debut. Hulu could end up needing a little extra time to make changes as a result of beta feedback, which could push the date back from the first week to even the third.

At launch, Hulu will roll out a new look and feel that involves a more streamlined design that also focuses more on personalized recommendations instead of an onscreen TV Guide. For live TV subscribers, Hulu’s suggestions will offer a mix of live TV and on-demand content. These will be informed by both explicit actions – including telling Hulu about your interest when you launch the app for the first time – as well as implicit actions – like your browsing and viewing behavior.

But the addition of live streaming television is the most anticipated aspect to the launch.

Hulu today already offers a robust on-demand library of licensed content from network and studio partners, including TV shows, movies and its own original programming. You can choose to watch Hulu with ads, or ditch them for a few dollars more per month.

Its new live TV service will be an expansion on that, combining live broadcast TV, live broadcast TV on-demand content, plus Hulu’s licensed on-demand content and own original programming, all under one roof. You can think of it as something more akin to a mashup of Netflix and Sling, rather than just a competitor to Sling.

Hulu hasn’t officially confirmed pricing for its live TV service, having only said that it would be available for “under $40” per month. However, we heard from sources that it’s a $39.99 per month price point that Hulu is considering for its launch. The company is still trying to lower that further, but this is the number that’s floating around internally.

Also not entirely set in stone are prices for the upgrade add-ons, like unlimited streaming, a cloud DVR or a bundle of both. Sources familiar with the matter at Hulu confirmed earlier that an “under $20” bundle combining both unlimited streams and a cloud DVR was in the works. The core service will also offer some recording time – we’ve heard 50 hours – but users would not be able to fast-forward through ads or access expanded storage (up to 200 hours) if they didn’t upgrade to the DVR feature. (The DVR may be sold separately at $14.99, we’ve also heard. But we understand this pricing is not finalized, either.)

The cloud DVR will work like most – that is, “first in, first out,” when it comes to deleting old content to make room for newer recordings. It will also only record new episodes – not reruns – by default. However, users can explicitly tell it to record all episodes, or a specific rerun if they choose.

The lineup for Hulu’s live TV service is comparable, generally speaking, to rival streaming TV services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and DirectTV Now. Of course, there are variations between these offerings, but unless there’s a particular network or TV show you just can’t live without – and isn’t ever coming to Netflix – many viewers may make channel lineup a secondary concern over things like price, experience, performance, and cross-platform support.

Hulu has already publicly confirmed that it has deals with CBS, 21st Century Fox, and Disney which, combined, add 40 networks to its service, including broadcast networks CBS, ABC, and Fox.

It also has ESPN and Fox Sports, and other regional sports networks in several national markets, as well as host of cable TV stations, like A&E, History, Lifetime, LMN, FYI, Viceland, Disney Channel, Disney Jr., Disney XD, FreeForm, Fox News, Fox Business, Freeform, FX, FXX, FXM, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, truTV, Boomerang, Pop and Turner Classic Movies.

Hulu has not announced a launch date, but the messaging to staff is one of getting them ready for an early May launch.

Specifically, one internal employee communication stated that the new live TV service (code-named Curiosity) and the new user experience (code named Bowie) will be released “during the first week of May – get pumped!” However, other sources said that “first week” could turn into mid-May.

Employees were told the timing is confidential – and not to share it outside the company (oops!). It was being shared internally as part of Hulu’s launch readiness planning, which includes standard prep work like staff training, mock customer calls, getting staff familiar with the offerings, internal testing (dogfooding) and other agenda items.

Hulu declined to comment.