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Hulu vs. TV.com: Old habits die hard

So much for the utopian vision of ubiquitous of program syndication via Internet.

CBS Corp. and Hulu, the joint Internet vid venture of NBC Universal and News Corp., are scrapping over their Internet vid ambitions.

Hulu on Tuesday yanked all of its video off of CBS’ TV.com site, saying in a statement that it was “exercising” its contractual rights to pull its vid.

CNET, TV.com’s parent company, was recruited as one of Hulu’s charter distribution partners when the venture was formed in 2007. But that was before CBS Corp. bought CNET last year.

CBS has a different interpretation of CNET’s contract with Hulu, which undoubtedly involved some form of ad revenue sharing.

“CBS Interactive is well within its rights to stream Hulu video content on TV.com under its agreement with Hulu. We are evaluating our next steps at this time,” CBS said in a statement.

Hulu’s move comes on the heels of CBS’ recent push to beef up TV.com beyond being a fan-centric site (clips, interviews, episode guides, etc.) to offering streaming vid of full-length episodes. Having access to Hulu’s menu of NBC- and Fox-produced shows certainly didn’t hurt that effort.

On the other hand, CBS has never licensed any of the content it controls (CBS, CW, Showtime) to Hulu, so maybe the Hulu folks thought “Hey, fair’s fair” and “why are we helping to build up a competitor?” And yet the whole premise behind Hulu was to get the shows distribbed via the company’s proprietary player as far and wide on the Internet as possible — syndication 2.0.

As of Thursday evening, TV.com still had links to a number of NBC series up on its “full episode” menu. But anyone hoping to watch an episode of, say, NBC’s “Life” or FX’s “Damages” is abruptly cut off with a black screen and a terse “video unavailable” message.

The Internet may be blazing new trails for program distribution, but it appears that old habits die hard when longtime old-media competitors are at the controls.

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