Coming soon to a small screen near you (if it's equipped with an Apple TV set-top box): your favorite shows via Hulu Plus, the premium service for watching network and cable episodes via the Internet.
Available for $7.99 per month (with a free one-week trial offer), Hulu offers unlimited streaming of current and past TV shows (with ads) including full seasons, and has been available on iPads and iPhones as well as Apple TV competitors such as Roku. Apple did not announce the introduction of the app on Apple TV (available without downloading), but it was quickly noticed by viewers and reported by Web sites focusing on Apple products.
Apple Gets a Slice
As in the case of rival Netflix, users can sign up for Hulu Plus directly from the app. That gives Apple both a slice of the pie and data about the users.
Once described by Apple CEO Tim Cook as a "hobby" rather than a major product like the iPad or iPhone, demand for Apple TV has grown 130 percent based on fiscal third-quarter figures for this year over the same period last year, with 1.3 million Apple TV units shipped.
Content providers have been slow in releasing shows for Internet viewing for fear of undermining broadcast TV, which still has the most lucrative form of advertising, or cable subscriptions as viewers flirt with the ability to "cut the cord" and give up all but their Internet access.
But Apple, for its part, has also been slow in phasing in TV show content for the set-top box. After all, it sells TV shows via iTunes.
"Apple has been deliberate in limiting the number of channels and options on its Apple TV box, focusing initially on iTunes and Netflix, and expanding slowly over time," said mobile devices analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.
But Hulu adds another dimension, he said.
No Need to Keep Episodes
"While you can buy individual episodes and entire seasons of television on iTunes, many consumers have no desire to own TV episodes that they intend to watch only once. Hulu Plus brings an array of television content with a business model that better matches the way many people want to watch TV -- on a subscription basis and with minimal commercial interruption."
The advent of high-definition mobile devices with increasingly powerful processors and high-speed data networks has fueled the popularity of Hulu and Netflix as consumers catch up on missed programs or, if disenchanted with current TV offerings, "binge" on entire seasons of classic shows while at the gym or on the train.
"Services that queue up entire seasons make binge viewing possible," Greengart said. "Not everyone has a smart TV or a box that can access these services. Or they have the box -- Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Apple TV, and Roku have each sold in the millions -- but consumers may not realize that it can access more than games or Netflix."