There are a lot of risks here — removing oneself from Hulu is not the same as a pay wall, but it does mean isolating yourself from one of the biggest gathering places for viewers. But there are two reasons why Viacom could make this a win for itself, and not just a damaging blow to Hulu.
1. It already shows the episodes on its own Comedy Central website. People manage to locate the TV channel, so they ought to be able to find the website. Why give away those ad dollars when you don’t own a piece of Hulu in the first place?
Remember, while Hulu is relatively financially successful for its type of venture, it still runs far too many public-service announcements to have filled all its advertising volume (old link, but it’s the gist), and its access isn’t what it used to be, as networks are getting craftier (or irritating) in how many and how long their shows air. Other knocks on Hulu:
- It’s got a tough audience. To make money, it needs ads, but place too many and people get upset. Put in a pay wall, and people expect no ads, which kind of defeats the purpose.
- Hulu’s dependent on Flash, which kills it on mobile devices (more later on that).
- While it’s likely a coincidence, NBC has been the most Hulu-friendly network, with shows that appeal to young demographics, and its ratings have gone into the toilet. CBS is the least friendly online-viewing major network, and it’s weathered the overall ratings decline better than most. It’s not out of the question that Hulu is a TV killer. That may be great for you and me, but it’s not good for TV people.
- For the viewer, you’ve got to navigate to a new site, but on Comedy Central, the streams should be free. They might not be — at least, not all of them — much longer on Hulu.
2. It has to spur Viacom to innovate … right?
If you aren’t going to go with Hulu, though, you’ve gotta come up with your own setting that is fast-loading, not distracting but still allows for ad placement and revenue. You may also have to adjust to the iPad’s rumored no-Flash zone, which could be a major issue for Hulu.
You’re also betting that the Colbert and Stewart audiences, fervent as they are, are also watching online in great enough numbers to justify the bandwidth costs and site management you’ll be taking on.
Here’s an opportunity for social media to balance out the loss of a gateway like Hulu — Colbert, especially, has always shown he can mobilize the masses with but a few words. Imagine if Colbert (and Stewart, probably to a lesser degree) were to plug the hell of our their Comedy Central-hosted sites on a regular basis. Imagine if they were also offering extra content and a place of community on those sites. Who would need Hulu then? Not them.
All this is hypothetical, for now. That’s why No. 2 is a conditional win — it’s more of an opportunity for Viacom to show what it can do.