Hulu 2.0: Saving the Best For Cable?

Hulu’s traffic in April spiked 490% from last year, according to Nielsen — the site served up 373 million streams last month, to become the No. 2 biggest video site on the Internet after you-know-who-tube.

While some wonder if Hulu will be a victim of its own success, undercutting cable TV distribution, others suggest that Hulu 2.0 will be all about delivering authenticated content to pay TV customers.

Hulu is “saving themselves for the cable industry,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey wrote in a blog posting, after the Internet TV venture announced Disney was taking an equity stake.

“Where Hulu 1.0 will remain free for online viewers, Hulu 2.0 will provide not just four episodes of a TV show, but all the seasons of the show to date, plus back seasons, and even new-release movies,” McQuivey speculates.

In fact, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has alluded to this possibility.

In a Q&A conducted by New York Times Freakonomics blogger Stephen Dubner, Kilar says: “We believe that Hulu can be a major part of the solution for cable, telco, and satellite companies seeking to offer their pay TV subscribers valuable online benefits.”

That sounds like Hulu is eager to provide the mechanism for the “authentication” online services Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox are cooking up. (See Comcast Exec: Internet TV Plans Preserve Cable Model, Time Warner Cable’s Stern: ‘TV Everywhere’ Must Be Easy, Scalable and Ops Seek Rights to ‘Place-Shift.’)

Note that Comcast’s ThePlatform has already suggested it will be providing the back-end for its parent company’s efforts.

In the Freaknomics Q&A, Kilar also addresses the Boxee brouhaha, responding to a question about why Hulu’s content providers blocked access from the Web-to-TV software.

“This isn’t a situation of who gets it or who doesn’t get it,” Kilar said. “It is about content providers earning enough dollars such that they can cover the salaries of the actors and crew for the next episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example. As I mentioned in a response earlier, our content providers’ ability to fund the creation of shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is heavily influenced by the revenues they receive from their portion of consumers’ monthly cable TV bills.”

Cable programmers, Kilar noted, want to “keep their shows from living room environments that promote themselves as substitutes to their analog cable TV business.”

In other words: Sorry, Boxee dudes, you’re not going to get your hands on stuff that’s been bought and paid for through existing services.