In Comcast's NBCU lineup, is there room for Hulu?

Jim O'Neil

Comcast, the 800-pound gorilla in the cable industry, got even bigger last week after making a deal with General Electric for a joint venture that will run a reinforced NBC Universal, supported by some of Comcast's biggest stars, kind of a New York Yankees on steroids (whoops, we won't go there, sorry A-Rod).

The deal makes all kinds of sense for Comcast, picking up NBCU's programming networks like MSNBC, CNBC, USA network, and SyFy, not to mention it's sports programming and motion picture studio, will dramatically reduce Comcast's cost of programming, or at least offset it with revenues from those properties.

But, just like there's little room on the Bronx Bombers roster for a light-hitting utility fielder, is there room in the new NBCU/Comcast for Hulu?

Let's face it, Hulu's on shaky ground already, questionable monetization, a full lap down from All-World YouTube, and being pulled three ways by its three owners, one of which now happens to have always had it on its short list of "things I'd like to see disappear," another, (News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch) may simply see it as a way to keep a thorn in Google's side, meaning it may be of little significance to him down the road. Hulu's other owner, Disney, has problems of its own.

Right now, free broadcast programming from NBCU adorns Hulu like bling on a big-hitting outfielder, programming that cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner might rather have to offer at a premium on their own TV Everywhere oferings. In fact, Comcast is scheduled to roll out its flavor, On Demand Online, this month. Once it controls Hulu, will it take the NBCU content to ODO, leave it on Hulu, or reapportion it?

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has made no secret of his dislike of sites like Hulu and YouTube, and the chunk of cash they take away from programming networks. Now that he may soon own a share of the site, will he change his tune?

Hulu, unlike YouTube, doesn't carry a lot of clout, and it's three-way ownership leaves it with no clear support.

My guess? The little video-site-that-could might end up getting its release from the team sooner rather than later, a flash-in-the pan prospect that never made the grade.

As Verizon Communications CEO Ivan Seidenberg said about the video-hosting platform during a CNBC-sponsored event (now, there's some irony): "In two years it won't matter because the world will have moved on."-Jim

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