Hulu's effort to become a one-stop Web destination for hit TV shows got a boost on Thursday. Disney dis said that it will join NBC Universal ge and News Corp. nwsa as a partner — leaving CBS cbs as the only major broadcast network not affiliated with the joint venture.
Once approved by regulators, Hulu will offer programs that also run on ABC.com, including Lost and Desperate Housewives. The other partners stream their shows on NBC.com and Fox.com.
But Disney also will offer Hulu undisclosed programming not available elsewhere online. "There will be some select movies," says Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney. "There'll be some Disney Channel programming. There'll be some series from the ABC Studios library."
If Disney included hit programs from cable networks such as ABC Family and Disney XD, it could irk cable operators. They want only subscribers to see online versions of cable shows. Comcast, the largest operator, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the deal puts pressure on CBS.
Barrington Research Associates analyst James Goss says that CBS might be tempted to join now. "I suspect CBS was competing to get Disney for TV.com," a CBS-owned site, he says.
Hulu attracted 41.6 million unique viewers in March — behind Google (which owns YouTube), Fox Interactive Media and Yahoo — according to research firm ComScore.
Hulu's door is open: "We've always said that we would love to have everybody's content," says NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker.
The sticking point involves syndication to other online sites. Hulu's partners gave the joint venture the right to handle most of that business — although Disney's agreements with AOL, Veoh, Comcast and others "will stay in place," Sweeney says.
Hulu has good reason to be flexible.
With the added programs and viewers, "We'll be able to offer great things to advertisers," Hulu CEO Jason Kilar says.
But CBS syndicates shows even more widely to others, including AOL, Comcast, Joost, Bebo and YouTube. In a statement, CBS said it wants to continue controlling all its programming rights.
Nobody has a lock yet on the nascent Web TV market. "I don't think it's going to be that difficult for other people to catch up to Hulu," says Larry Kramer of Polaris Venture Partners, who used to run CBS' online operations. "It's all technology."