This week brought news that Comedy Central was pulling its programs, including its hits "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report," from Hulu on March 9th. Both had been available on Hulu since the summer of 2008 in what Comedy Central had initially positioned as a test. Both will still be freely available at ComedyCentral.com.
The Daily Show in particular had been enormously popular on Hulu since launch, so in this respect losing it is a setback for Hulu. Still, Comedy Central's decision should come as a surprise to nobody. As I've been saying since I wrote "The Cable Industry Closes Ranks" in November '08, a bright line is being drawn in the broadband world between programs that consumers currently pay for and those that they don't. The industry is determined make sure the former stay that way and don't leak out onto the free Internet (in this sense, it's actually amazing to me that the Comedy programs are still available for free on its own site, but that's another story).
The free ad-only Hulu model is bumping up against the industry's big TV Everywhere push (another effort to maintain the subscription model) and so it was inevitable that Comedy's programs would get pulled. Hulu could make itself more attractive to networks - and open up new opportunities for itself - if it offered a subscription model. This is something I've suggested for some time, however I'm somewhat skeptical that anything will happen on this front until the Comcast-NBCU deal closes. Comcast would then become an approximately 20% owner of Hulu and will surely want to influence its strategic direction.
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