How Much Will You Have to Pay For Hulu? Nothing. How Much Will You Pay for “Hulu Plus”? Good Question.

the_office_promo_pic_nbcIs Hulu putting up a pay wall around its Web TV site? Nope. Does Hulu want to charge people to watch Web TV? Yes.

Confused? Don’t be. It’s pretty straightforward: Hulu, the joint venture between News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox, GE’s (GE) NBC Universal and Disney’s (DIS) ABC, doesn’t plan on charging people to watch the stuff it’s currently airing on the site–a mix of first-run shows from broadcast TV, a limited number of cable TV shows and a smattering of movies. But Hulu is trying to figure out how to create some kind of premium offering where you’ll pay for stuff that isn’t on the site right now.

That’s what Hulu’s backers have been saying for months, so it’s a little puzzling that News Corp. COO Chase Carey’s comments got folks worked up yesterday. Meanwhile, multiple sources familiar with Hulu’s plans tell me that…Hulu doesn’t actually have a plan yet, but it is trying to piece one together.

There are some pretty obvious ways to go here. Hulu could sell movies or TV shows on a pay-per-view basis, or it could sell subscriptions to shows it doesn’t offer now or to a deeper offering of shows it already has. You could call it “Hulu Plus” (no charge for that one guys).

If you’re a fan of Fox’s “Family Guy,” for instance, Hulu is only of limited help: The site only has the most recent five episodes. So how much would you pay to watch the rest of them?

If you don’t have an answer for that, don’t worry–Team Hulu doesn’t know, either. Nor can they tell you if airing free shows on Hulu has cut into other revenue streams like broadcast TV advertising or DVD sales, even though “we’ve done a thousand regression analyses on this,” says an industry executive involved in the site.

Do bear in mind that this was a problem Hulu’s backers didn’t really envision when they were dreaming up the site; at the time, they were most concerned with building a video site that would allow them to barter with Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL).

Now they own one of the biggest video sites on the Web, one they say is performing ahead of plan. And Hulu is selling enough advertising that it’s coming close to reaching break-even, according to executives I spoke to this week.

But at the very least, adding a pay component to Hulu helps mollify those who fear the site is cannibalizing their existing businesses. Or who simply want another revenue stream. And a pay element dovetails with Hulu’s interest in joining up with the “authentication” movement pushed by cable guys like Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner (TWX).

Meanwhile, here’s the use case for Hulu that its backers originally envisioned–“catch up viewing.” I was on a plane when last night’s episode of the “The Office” aired, but I can watch the whole thing–with ads I can’t skip–on my laptop today. And so can you:

Does Checkbook Blogging Pay Off? “Hard to Measure,” Says Gawker Media’s Nick Denton.

nick-dentonAnother scandal, another Gawker story, and another payday for the person who sold Gawker the news. No big deal, says Nick Denton, the blog impresario: We’ll keep doing it.

The specifics in this case involve the alleged Balloon Boy hoax, and a 25-year-old student who says he was involved, unwittingly, in the stunt. Last week, Robert Thomas announced, via Business Insider, that he’d sell his story to anyone willing to pay him $5,000 to $8,000. Denton’s company wrote a check for the tale, though it says it paid much less than Thomas’s ask.

This is becoming standard practice for Denton, who announced in July that he was willing to pay for juicy stories, tips and other stuff he could publish. In August, he shelled out for video of “Grey’s Anatomy” star Eric Dane, his wife Rebecca Gayheart and another woman in various states of undress.

Semi-naked semi-celebrities draw more eyeballs than stories about delusional reality show aspirants, apparently: The “McSteamy” clips have generated more than four million views this fall, while Denton predicts the Balloon Boy saga will ultimately do one million.

My question: Does paying for this stuff make sense? After announcing a year ago that advertising was going to fall off a cliff, Denton now says he’s been making good money, after all. So does this kind of checkbook blogging produce more profit? Denton’s answer, via email:

Hard to measure profitability. Short-term effect. Balloon boy story will probably go to 1m views. But you know one can’t easily sell advertising into a spike. And video hosting costs pretty significant–though not this time.

Why you think just two bought stories? We paid 10k for that Photoshop expose a couple years ago. Not really a new thing.

A story is a story. We’re not squeamish about the means. And the paroxysms of the j-school ethicists add to the satisfaction.

You were expecting a more straightforward answer? Hah!

If you want, you can check out Gawker’s rate card, make some assumptions, and conclude that Denton can’t afford to pay his story-sellers that much and still end up in the black, even at one million page views. And I’m reasonably confident that Denton is very interested in measuring profitability, and has worked out an equation that pays his story-sellers in proportion to traffic, but without breaking his bank.

But the last part of Denton’s missive–quivering ethicist strawmen aside–is what really rings true. He really does get a huge kick out of this stuff: Entertaining himself with his blog empire, tweaking enemies real and imagined, and shrugging about it publicly.

It’d be wrong to say you can’t put a price on that. But whatever that price is, Denton can afford it.