German nets looking to out maneuver Hulu

With home-grown German-language open online platform

COLOGNE, Germany -- Hulu could get shut out of Europe's largest television market before it even arrives. The U.S. video-aggregator, owned by News Corp, Walt Disney and NBC Universal, is revving up its international expansion plans, hoping to take its newly launched pay service, Hulu Plus, to "Glee" addicts worldwide.

But some 90 million viewers in German-speaking Europe could soon have an online TV site of their own and one that speaks their language.

According to sources near the companies, Germany's two largest commercial broadcasters -- RTL Television and ProSiebenSat.1 -- have met with representatives of the Federal Cartel Office and the European Commission to discuss plans for a jointly-run German-language site modeled on Hulu.

The service is conceived as an open online platform with programming from all German public and commercial broadcasters for users in Germany and Austria. ProSieben and RTL would jointly own the firm that would handle the site's technical infrastructure but individual channels would decide what programs are streamed and what mix of ad-supported or pay models is used for each.

RTL and ProSieben have been discussing the project for months but with an international version of Hulu in the starting blocks, the German nets are under the gun. The broadcasters are expected to submit formal applications to the German and EU authorities later this year.

The German nets have a home field advantage over Hulu because they already hold local-language rights to the territories' most in-demand TV shows. Rights issues have hobbled Hulu's plans to roll out its service internationally. Company CEO Jason Kilar has suggested the U.K. and Japan are priority markets for a global expansion but talks with Brit commercial net ITV, started last year, have stalled. Hulu is thought to have offered ITV a 25% stake in a U.K. version of Hulu. Instead, ITV has decided to focus on its own online service ITV.com.

Hulu Plus, the company's pay offering launched last month, could allow the company to circumvent certain rights issues and start a global Hulu roll-out. But not if the German nets have anything to say about it.

Both RTL and ProSieben declined comment on their German Hulu plans.
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