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Disruptive TV streaming service Hulu is preparing to launch in Australia with sources close to the project flagging it might launch with or without the support of the commercial free-to-air TV networks.

Hulu, which offers free ad-supported on-demand streaming of TV shows and movies, has been a runaway hit in the US, where it garners hundreds of millions of streams a month on desktop computers and internet-connected TVs.

NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment Group and Disney all own roughly equal stakes in the company but, so far, the content (there are more than 260 content partners) has only been available to those in the US. Hulu was formed as a way of fighting back against online TV show piracy.

In the strongest indication yet that Hulu is launching in Australia, the company, headquartered in Los Angeles, filed for an Australian trademark on March 29.

Local TV networks have been reluctant to support Hulu because there is a fear that it will drive people away from their core business broadcast TV. However, some networks are embracing the service fearing they might miss out on capitalising on the shift towards online TV streaming.

Nine is the furthest along the path to joining Hulu and the network reportedly signed a heads of agreement with the company late last year. It is understood Hulu has also had talks with Seven, Ten and the ABC.

Seven insiders dismissed Hulu and queried why local networks would spend money buying rights to air shows in Australia and marketing them only to hand the content over to a service such as Hulu.

A network source close to the launch of Hulu in Australia said the local unveiling was not imminent but was definitely on the cards and the service would launch with or without the local TV networks.

“You wouldn’t launch with just shows from one network but you might launch with two if a network has got the rights to free-to-air broadcast [in Australia] and then doesn’t participate in Hulu I think it’s unlikely that their content will show up on Hulu,” the source said.

But the source added that there was plenty of great content on Hulu in the US that wasn’t being aired by any of the TV networks in Australia.

Although each of the major Australian TV networks offers its own online catch-up TV services, the source said Hulu was about bringing it all together in one place.

“It’s not a straightforward thing for a network because you do have to consider your existing broadcast business [but] you can build significant value as a shareholder in a business like this and that would outweigh any negative impact,” they said.

Kim Dalton, ABC’s director of television, said the public broadcaster had not yet pledged to work with Hulu but it supported a “whole of industry platform offering”. He said the service would “underpin and bring strength to the free-to-air platform”.

“However, I can speak like that as a public broadcaster I completely understand that for the commercial networks there are all sorts of issues that they have to deal with,” Dalton said.

Hulu US spokeswoman Elisa Schreiber declined to comment when asked for details on the Hulu launch in Australia. At last year’s Media 2010 event, Hulu’s director of international business development, Simon Gallagher, said Australia was on the top 10 list of countries on Hulu’s international expansion plans.

Even without an official Australian launch, tech-savvy users from outside the US have been able to access Hulu for some time using unauthorised hacks that can be found via a quick Google search.

However, many of these methods have been blocked by the company.

In movies, Hulu as a streaming service would compete against local offerings such as Quickflix, which is taking on movie rental stores by posting DVDs out to customers.

Quickflix founder, Stephen Langsford, said the company had no plans right now to get into movie streaming and he did not appear worried by the impending launch of Hulu.

“I’ve heard speculation that Hulu will be coming to Australia ‘soon’ for the last three years,” he said.

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