Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Return to Hulu

Hulu has struck a content deal with Viacom that returns "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" to and brings shows from other networks to the subscription service, Hulu Plus. At the same time, Hulu's CEO hinted that the days of fully free access to the service might be numbered.

The agreement covers shows on Comedy Central, MTV, BET, VH1, Spike TV and TV Land. As of February 2, current, full episodes, of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" became available on the free service as well as Hulu Plus.

Now, if you want more highbrow stuff from Viacom than Comedy Central's two famed news parody shows, you can get that on the paid version of Hulu, and you'll have to wait 21 days to do so. Subscribers will be treated to shows like Jersey Shore, Tosh.0, Teen Mom 2, Manswers, Let's Stay Together, and Hot in Cleveland.(Someone would pay to watch Jersey Shore?)

This was a major score for Hulu. The site has seen its popularity rise as increasing numbers of consumers buy consumer toys that make streaming Web video every bit as good as watching TV the old fashioned way, and with far fewer commercials.

Viacom pulled The Daily Show and The Colbert Report from nearly a year ago in what was widely publicized as the first major fracture between content producers and the online service. Hulu is owned by rival content producers, NBC Universal, News Corporation (Fox television) and The Walt Disney Company and had struggled to figure out a profitable business model until now. Viacom simply wanted more money to air its gems on Hulu -- and at the time Hulu didn't have it.

Fast forward a year, and Hulu seems to be everywhere. It is even developing an Android app, promised for later this year. Hulu's CEO, Jason Kilar, said he expects Hulu Plus to hit over 1 million subscribers in 2011. It launched in November, and, although subscribers still get the commercials, they don't have to wait 21 days to see them embedded into their favorite shows, available whenever they want to see them. It costs $7.99/month.


Hulu also claims it is now rolling in revenue. Kilar used the Viacom announcement to declare that Hulu makes more money per ad than traditional television because, thanks to the DVR, most of us out there in viewer land don't watch the too-many commercials thrown at us. Hulu expects to see a half billion in revenue from advertising in 2011, up from half that in 2010, and from $108 million in 2009.

Then, in the middle of all that crowing about how great per-user subscription services are for content makers, Kilar said this, "We believe that all studios and networks will recognize that it is in their economic interest to insist on per-user per-month pricing in all their distribution relationships (library content and current content)."

So, now that he's got a subscription service, he thinks it's best that content providers (such as Comedy Central, perhaps?)  stop freely offering their TV shows on the Web to viewers? (Hey, if they stop, then Hulu can stop.) That truly is in everyone's best interest, except the viewer, who is to pay for the service, and watch the ads.