Without Colbert, Stewart, Hulu Could Cede Some Ground To Viacom

Jon Stewart Hulu2

Barring a last-minute fix or change of strategy, at midnight Tuesday Hulu.com will switch from a co-host for online video of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report to a referral engine for the popular shows. Viacom (NYSE: VIA) execs like to call it a test but after 21 months it’s become a habit for those who relied on Hulu for one-stop viewing.

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman told investors at a Credit Suisse conference the 21-month stint was a test and this doesn’t have to be a permanent separation. “In the current economic model, there is not that much in it for us to continue at this time,” Dauman said, according to Multichannel News. “If they can get to the point where the monetization model is better, then we may go back.”

What does the change actually mean for the two in terms of video numbers? No one outside of the Disney-News Corp.-NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) joint venture can be sure how much video traffic Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart actually account for on the video portal and even though it may look possible, we aren’t likely to get a good clue when the March and April video rankings come out. On the surface, it looks like Viacom, which has been neck and neck with Hulu this past year, should gain some ground. But the actual effect of losing one or two shows or gaining the video traffic from them is much harder to gauge. Comedy Central wanted a better deal from Hulu because it thinks the two shows are more valuable; without that deal, they hope to raise the value to Viacom and MTV Networks by taking it all in house.

Video viewing impact: Thanks to its one-stop status for so many primetime shows, Hulu had a wide lead over everyone but Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for the number of videos viewed in January, according to *comScore* Media Metrix. YouTube/Google served 12.8 billion videos compared with 903 million for Hulu. The portal’s share is estimated at 2.8, Viacom Digital is #5 with 361,228 videos served and a 1.1 share. But when it comes to unique viewers, the two are much closer: Hulu was #5 with 38.4 million, Viacom was #6 with just over 38 million and that’s where the change is likely to be most visible.

And Viacom could still take a hit. Hulu will continue to refer users through its search engine but Stewart and Colbert clips are very popular embed material. Video views accrue through the player so should work to the parent site’s advantage even when embedded elsewhere. But getting people to the right place to grab the embeds could leak some viewers as could the one big difference between the two players: Comedy Central doesn’t allow viewers to make their own clips.

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