The popular online video portal Hulu said that licensing talks with Viacom’s Comedy Central have broken down and that the channel’s content, including “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” will disappear from the site next week.
The removal of the political satire shows will be a significant loss for Hulu, where they had attracted an intensely loyal following of viewers for whom the shows had become a daily routine. On Wednesday morning, Hulu listed “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” episodes that aired Tuesday as the second and fifth most popular programs on the site, respectively.
“The team at Comedy Central have been great partners for us, and our users have been extremely vocal and passionate about how much they love what the Comedy Central folks are doing,” Andy Forssell, Hulu’s senior vice president of content and distribution, wrote in a blog post entitled, “A Fond Farewell.”
“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,” he said.
That Hulu marked the occasion with a public statement is itself a testimony to the significance of the shows. Forssell noted that Hulu in its negotiations with entertainment companies routinely pulls programming from the site after licensing agreements expire, but usually doesn’t give the moves any more fanfare than alerting subscribers or viewers who have the shows in their queue that the content is about to drop off of the site.
But it was a different story with the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” which Forssell said are “shows that we love so much that we simply can’t let them go without a more public and fond farewell.”
The termination ends a 21-month partnership dating to June 2008, when the shows first appeared on Hulu. In the time since, the video site, a joint venture backed by ABC, NBC and Fox, has been rapidly adding new content providers, and has seen its viewership increase apace.
Hulu boasts around 44 million monthly viewers, and serves up more videos than any other Web site except for YouTube, according to online metrics firm comScore.
Hulu has won praise from industry observers for blazing a trail in the digital distribution of premium video content, offering free on-demand access to as many shows as it can license with a revenue model built on advertising, typically a brief pre-roll add and a few short mid-roll placements.
But Viacom was unable to come to terms on the revenue split for an extension of the licenses for “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” though both parties stressed that the split was amicable.
“It came down to valuation of the product, the value of the two shows. We were at one figure and they were at a different figure,” a source involved with Viacom’s side of the talks told InternetNews.com. “We both wished that we could have continued our relationship with Hulu for these two shows.”
In a statement, Comedy Central noted that the shows will still be available for on-demand streaming.
“Comedy Central has made ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ available to consumers through Hulu since June 2008. Although that agreement has concluded, full-length episodes of each show will remain available at TheDailyShow.com and ColbertNation.com, respectively,” the network said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
“Hulu was one of the many digital distribution partners we’ve worked with over the past few years to add new outlets for our valuable and powerful content and to help drive the businesses of our partners. We had a great experience with Hulu, and we hope to work with its team again in the future.”
Hulu’s Forssell echoed that sentiment, saying that the site is “continuing to talk to the Comedy Central folks about a number of opportunities.”
But the source connected with the negotiations said that any talks between the two parties in the future would likely concern other Comedy Central programming, saying that options for a new licensing deal with Hulu for “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were “pretty much exhausted.”
The source confirmed that as a result of the impasse, Comedy Central is pulling its other shows, “Strangers With Candy” and “Halfway Home,” from Hulu’s library. The source declined to discuss the valuation each side was seeking in the talks over “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”
The shows will drop off of Hulu at the end of the day on Tuesday, March 9.