A wave of sadness hit the Web today, as Hulu lovers prepared to say goodbye to moments of zen framed by the ever-present gray video player.
Hulu and Comedy Central, a cable channel owned by Viacom, announced Tuesday that the network's programming -- most notably Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's shows -- will no longer be available on Hulu as of next Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. PST.
"Is this the slow unraveling of the best internet site in years? Hulu what's happening!" one Twitter user questioned.
The move by Viacom comes down to money.
Hulu is able to host content by creating revenue shares with the content owners -- the owners receive 50 to 70 percent of the advertising revenue from a video, with the rest going to Hulu, according to The New York Times. There has been no official comment on what lead to the failed negotiations, but The NYT speculates that Viacom may have asked for payment in addition to the revenue split.
"After a series of discussions with the team at Comedy Central, though, we ultimately were unable to secure the rights to extend these shows for a much longer period of time," Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content and distribution, wrote in a blog post.
"The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" have been available on Hulu since June 2008, and the two Comedy Central programs are consistently ranked among the site's most popular daily videos along side heavyweights like "Lost" and the "The Office."
If Viacom feels that they aren't getting enough bang for their buck with Hulu, it may be that they are confident that their already dedicated fan base will follow them into a new Firefox tab.
Through 2009, Viacom's audience grew from 15 percent to more than 22 percent of the total Internet video viewing population, according to Comscore. Hulu saw only two-percent growth, from 23 percent to 25 percent of that same pool.
By hosting content on their own site Viacom is able to package videos with related content and links to everything from ticket information to Jon Stewart swag. Hulu only allows for a one to two line summary of each episode.
Even so, Viacom could find themselves falling short in video views -- looking to Comscore, the average Hulu user continues to consume an increasing number of videos, while Viacom has seen a drop in views per visitor, from 11.3 to 9.4 in 2009.
In this writer's opinion, it wouldn't take much to turn this around. The video player, at least on the Comedy Central pages, is terrible and finding related video content is frustrating at best -- a quick redesign could vastly improve the user experience.
If we learned anything from the Fox v. Time Warner Cable war of late-2009, Comedy Central's absence may not last long.
In his post on the Hulu blog Forssell wrote, "They’re a great team and I’m confident that we’ll be working with them in multiple ways in the future … so stay tuned and know that we are scouring the earth for more great content for you."