Confirmed: Sprint to offer free Hulu subscriptions to unlimited users

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Sprint's unlimited customers will also be able to upgrade to Hulu's premium service "soon." (Hulu)

Sprint said it will give free basic Hulu subscriptions to unlimited customers starting this Friday, confirming a story FierceWireless published earlier this week based on information from Wave7 Research. And it said it will offer Hulu’s premium service to those users soon.

Hulu’s basic service sells for $5.99 a month for the first year, then bumps up to $7.99 a month, and includes a variety of content from movies, TV shows (entire seasons of “Family Guy” and “The Voice”), and original series (“The Handmaid’s Tale”).

“How people watch their favorite shows, listen to the latest music, and play the most popular games is changing all the time,” Sprint CMO Roger Solé said in a press release. “We’re excited to provide Sprint customers the best in entertainment through our unique partnership with Hulu.”

The nation’s fourth-largest carrier is clearly taking a page from the playbook of T-Mobile, which in September began offering free Netflix subscriptions to users with two or more lines on its T-Mobile One plan; customers with older or promotional plans must upgrade to T-Mobile One to get the deal. T-Mobile is essentially reselling Netflix, so customers see a charge and a credit for $10 a month for their subscriptions.

AT&T is focused heavily on video as well, obviously. In addition to its DirecTV Now service, in April it began offering free access to HBO to subscribers on its Unlimited Plus plan.

The arrangement between Sprint and T-Mobile was picked up on by Wave7 Research, and FierceWireless reported on the deal Monday.

Sprint also said its unlimited customers will soon have “an upgrade option” for Hulu’s sports and news-centric live TV plan, apparently referring to the $40-a-month “Hulu with Live TV” package. That service is targeted toward news and sports viewers and includes content from ESPN, CNN and Fox News, as well as traditional TV networks such as ABC and NBC.

Sprint didn't say how much the upgraded service will cost.

Free Hulu content could be a key differentiator for Sprint, which has become less aggressive promotionally as competition in the overall U.S. wireless market has calmed. (Indeed, CEO Marcelo Claure said last week the operator is planning to up the price of its service plans next quarter.)

One looming question, though, is how well Sprint’s network might be able to handle a significant increase in usage of video, which can be extremely taxing on wireless networks. Claure conceded last week that Sprint’s strategy of using small cells to shore up network deficiencies hasn’t been 100% successful, and the carrier is looking to dramatically increase its network investment starting in several months.

When T-Mobile announced its free Netflix offering, CEO John Legere made a point of noting how well his carrier’s network had fared in recent speed tests, implying that it could handle increased video consumption. Sprint is clearly gambling that its network is up to the task as well.