UPDATE (08:51AM Pacific): Well, looks like Microsoft couldn't wait until E3. They've gone and gotten rid of the Xbox Live Gold requirement and announced a Kinect-free Xbox One.
Talk about funny timing: Just last week our very own Mark Hachman was complaining that Microsoft still holds services like Netflix and Hulu Plus hostage behind its Xbox Live Gold paywall, essentially charging gamers a fee to use streaming video services that already charge monthly fees. This week, Ars Technica reports that Microsoft is going to stop charging you to access these services, citing "multiple sources within Microsoft."
The change will apply to both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, according to the report. Users of both consoles will be able to access Netflix and Hulu, among "other streaming media apps," without purchasing a Live subscription (which starts at $60 per year). This would bring the Xbox in line with Nintendo and Sony's consoles for streaming media access—Microsoft's long been the only console manufacturer to charge for access to any of these services.
Microsoft's hand has undoubtedly been forced by the increasing prevalence of alternative streaming methods: Since the Xbox 360's introduction, video streaming has exploded and is now built into a wide variety of devices—from consoles to Blu-ray players to Google's Chromecast to TVs themselves—for free. Since Microsoft wants its Xbox One to be your entertainment center, this change seemed almost inevitable.
The report comes as Microsoft gears up to launch its own original Xbox programming on June 13. Charging users to use rival streaming services while offering your own videos sans paywall would just be, well, wrong.
But wait! Before you get too excited, Ars Technica also reports that "Xbox Live Gold may put other services behind the paywall to make up for this shift." No word yet on what those services might be.
This type of change would be big news, and thus probably held for Microsoft's press conference early next month at E3. PCWorld and TechHive will be at the show to let you know about any major news as it happens.