Comedy Central pulls 'Daily Show' and 'Colbert Report' from Hulu

Hulu is losing two of its biggest stars.

Comedy Central is yanking "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" off the popular video website after the companies could not agree on a plan to share advertising revenue. Hulu said Tuesday that the shows will go off the site after March 9.

Viewers still will be able to get their Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert fix free -- on thedailyshow.com and colbertnation.com, websites owned by Comedy Central parent Viacom Inc.

The move throws a wrench into Hulu's ambitions to become an online showcase of top programs from all networks. Landing the politically liberal shows two years ago was a coup for Hulu because Viacom was not a partner in the site. Back then, media companies were willing to put aside their corporate partisanship to find out what worked on the Internet.

Hulu, launched in 2008, is owned by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., NBC Universal and the Walt Disney Co. -- competitors to Viacom.

Now that the Internet has proved to be another way for viewers to watch TV, Viacom is looking to keep the shows exclusively on its own sites and keep the advertising for itself. Such a strategy could signal a more balkanized online landscape and undercut Hulu's attempt to be a one-stop destination for viewers.

The loss may pose another problem for Hulu. Although the site has become an Internet phenomenon, primarily by providing episodes of broadcast network shows, including "Family Guy," "Parks and Recreation" and "Desperate Housewives," it hasn't been able to offer many shows that run on cable networks such as Bravo.

That's because cable and satellite operators, who spend billions of dollars in fees to programmers like NBC Universal, don't want shows they pay for also available free on the Internet. At the same time, TV programmers do not want to alienate their partners because they depend on their fees to support production costs.

Hulu's owners have been exploring whether to charge viewers for some shows.

Until now, Comedy Central appeared content to get the added exposure for its topical shows, which play off the news and, unlike "South Park," do not have much value when reruns are sold in syndication. But months of negotiations broke down when Comedy Central concluded that Hulu was not offering enough money, particularly given the popularity of the shows, frequently among the most-viewed on the video website.

The Comedy Central shows already are established on the Viacom-owned websites, according to Nielsen Co. data. In January, thedailyshow.com attracted 789,000 unique visitors while colbertnation.com had 275,000 visitors.

meg.james@latimes.com

Staff writer Dawn C. Chmielewski contributed to this report.

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