Disney made the expected announcement today that it is joining video portal Hulu as an equity partner. That means three out of four of the big broadcast networks will have their TV shows up on the site, with CBS choosing to remain the odd man out.
For its part, CBS says in a statement that it “has long employed open, non-exclusive content partnerships that allow fans across the Internet to engage with our programming in such a way that we control our distribution, sales and profit. We continue to discuss similar arrangements with additional partners as we grow our online audience based on the strength of our content, and the passion of the communities it creates. The Company also believes that controlling our own rights for that content — in all media — preserves its value in a multi-platform business system.”
Disney-ABC isn’t giving up any rights to its content, however. As a 30% equity partner in the company, according to the Wall Street Journal, it will have as much control over its Hulu-based content as NBC or Fox. Up to this point, Disney-ABC has probably been the studio that’s been most protective of its content, making its TV shows available only on ABC.com and iTunes. For Hulu to seal the deal, I’m sure it had to make Disney feel extremely comfortable that its content would be safe and protected.
So, where does that leave CBS? Its content is widely available online. It’s working hard on turning TV.com into a destination portal, CBS’ shows are available on CBS.com and through the CBS Audience Network, and they’re also available on more than 300 partner sites such as Veoh, MSN, YouTube, TVGuide.com, Fancast, AOL Video, Joost, Yahoo!, Adobe, Bebo, blinkx and so on.
Still, it seems obvious that adding Disney-ABC to Hulu gives Hulu a huge advantage over any other TV portal. If you are going to subscribe to a cable service, you aren’t going to subscribe to one that’s incomplete. CBS’s shows are all over the Web, but they aren’t available on the one portal people are increasingly turning to first to find the shows they want to watch. With big shows such as Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives coming soon to the portal, Hulu’s going to be hard to ignore. If you do a Google search for a CBS show, such as CSI or The Mentalist, they are easy enough to find. But with its vast array of free, ad-supported, top-of-the-line content, Hulu’s now going to be the first place the casual Internet video viewer will head to hang out. In turn, that should mean it’s the first place advertisers will hang out.
It will be interesting to see how long CBS resists joining Hulu. If CBS’ shows are already distributed across the Internet via TV.com, CBS.com and 300 partners and the network subscribes to an open, non-exclusive strategy where the Internet is concerned, then why not Hulu too? And perhaps the bigger question: if CBS does decide to come to the table, what will it cost the network to sign up now?