This week, NBC and Fox fired a new salvo in the ongoing battle for the eyeballs and wallets of viewers. The media giants have joined forces in a new online video venture dubbed hulu, which launched a beta test period Monday. It offers premium content from both TV networks, archival as well as current on-air shows – everything from "24" to "Heroes" (r.). Shows from sister cable networks are also included and a small number of films are on the site, too, with more promised. Hulu will also sport content from outside partners, such as Sony and MGM.
Like many online video sites, users can watch clips or full shows (up to five episodes at a time). It's free and hulu is testing all the standard ad models – single-show sponsors, interstitials, banner ads – during the beta run. But unlike most other sites, there are no user-generated uploads or social networking. That's because this isn't for the viewer, say hulu executives, it's about networks taking control of the TiVo generation's viewing habits. All the networks face declining viewership and ad revenues, says new media analyst Jack Myers, publisher of jackmyers.com. CBS has broad syndication deals with as many Internet partners as possible, while ABC streams its shows on corporate partner, Disney.com. "What no one knows is whether there is enough ad revenue on the Internet to support any of these models in any way comparable to what they're losing," says Mr. Myers, adding that hulu has plenty of competition from premium-content sites such as joost.com, revver.com, flip.tv, etc. Consumers want this content, adds Myers, but which model will prevail is anybody's guess. "We won't really have answers for another four to five years," he says. To join the hulu beta testers, go to hulu.com and sign up.