Once again we have an example of Rupert Murdoch saying something and doing something completely different on the same subject: the internet.

News Corp’s chairman has been agitating for users of his newspaper’s websites to pay for access to news and other material. The Wall Street Journal does it and last week Murdoch said that very soon other titles in the empire would start charging.

And then this week The Wall Street Journal revealed that it was planning to introduce micro-payments for individual articles and premium subscriptions to its website later this year.

“A sophisticated micro-payments service” will launch this autumn, Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of the Journal, told The Financial Times.

“The move will position the Journal as the first big newspaper title to adopt a model many are cautiously studying as they seek to reduce their dependence on plunging advertising revenues.”

Mr Thomson has accused Google of being a “parasite”, a bit rich for a News Corp executive when News is in bed with Google with an online ad deal worth over half a billion US dollars, principally for MySpace.

But as usual it pays to keep an eye on what Mr Murdoch is doing elsewhere and that brings to mind a website called Hulu.

Hulu is an online video service that offers hit TV shows, movies and clips and other online destination sites — all for free.

For Free. Yep, and News Corp owns a slab of it, as does NBC, Disney is joining, while private equity folk, Providence Equity Partners (they are the ones who partnered Lachlan Murdoch in his second attempt to buy Cons Media from James Packer last year for a very silly price).

But Hulu is hot: it’s the fastest growing website on the net. In March it had an estimated 380 million downloads from its sites.

Besides Fox, NBN and now Disney, Hulu brings together a large selection of videos from over 140 other content companies, including Comedy Central, Lionsgate, MGM, MTV Networks, National Geographic, Paramount, PBS, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros and more.

According to the blurb on its website and promotional material, users can choose from more than 1,250 current primetime TV hits such as The Simpsons, 30 Rock, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Office the morning after they air. Not to mention classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The A-Team, Airwolf and Married…with Children; movies like Revenge of the Nerds and In the Line of Fire; documentaries like Super Size Me, Crawford and I Am Because We Are; and clips from Saturday Night Live, Friends and other popular TV shows and movies.

380 million videos were viewed on Hulu in March, beating Yahoo!’s 335 million — but far behind YouTube’s 5.9 billion.

Hulu clips carry 30-second commercials at the front of the content. Revenue is shared with the providers and the owners.

And for the moment, it is free.

Will Murdoch try to introduce micro pay (Pay Pal?) type payment for Hulu (or force the other owners to join him)?

NBC won’t want to, nor would they, because they know (as Murdoch does with Fox) that Bit Torrent and other peer to peer sites that make TV programs available, would ruin that ploy.

For video, the payment horse has long bolted. For newspapers, the same could be said, but Murdoch wants to change that because he knows his papers have a huge and wrenching change ahead of them, just as the US car industry is being turned on its head.

Don’t expect to see the Murdoch doublespeak on free online content explained in any depth in any News Ltd publication in Australia.

Peter Fray

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