Corrects in fourth graf that AT&T customers will be able to search and browse Hulu content on mobile apps and websites.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to the players in the online video-streaming industry, Hulu has always been in a sort of netherworld.
It's not Netflix (NFLX), which continues to push international expansion and a slate of original shows with big-name actors as key to its future growth. And it's not Amazon's (AMZN) instant video product, which thrives as a bonus that accompanies an Amazon Prime delivery subscription.But Hulu, which is only available in the U.S., is owned by three of the largest media companies in the world: Comcast's ( CMCSA) NBCUniversal, Disney's ( DIS) ABC and 21st Century Fox's ( FOXA) broadcast unit. Hulu mixes recent episodes of current TV shows such as Fox's Empire and ABC's Scandal with original programming of its own.
But a flurry of recent activity by Hulu, including a deal that will allow AT&T's (T) customers to search and browse Hulu content on mobile apps and websites, and the payment of $160 million to exclusively stream Seinfeld reruns, has signaled that the company's owners may be trying to more aggressively grow the business.
"I'm really not sure what Hulu is up to," said Michael Pachter, a media industry analyst for Wedbush Securities. "They're owned by the TV networks, so they have a different strategy from Netflix. I think that they want to be an over-the-top alternative as a hedge, but they don't have the depth of content to compete with Netflix."
The new partnering with AT&T, which is set to go into effect later this year, has raised speculation about Hulu's strategy and whether the deal is setting the stage for a possible acquisition by the Dallas-base telecom which is beefing up its own over-the-top video-streaming offerings.
"In terms of the traditional [content] models, having access to a premium-positioning content is important," said AT&T's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, at a May 18 JPMorgan media and technology conference. "There is such a wide array and opportunity for a different content. The customer's going to kind of dictate that. That's why we think it's important to have a really tight, close relationship with a Hulu."