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Hulu: Game Changer or Just Another Site?

Monday, 29 Oct 2007 | 12:47 PM ET

NBC Universal and News Corp'sHulu.com finally launches after six months, plenty of delays, name-calling, and mocking.

The joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp's Fox was announced in March, conceived as a media company-controlled way to distribute a broad range of professionally created content--a viable alternative to YouTube. Hulu.com will offer content from Fox and NBC Universal, and it just closed a deal to also distribute some Sony and MGM content.

But it's not just a stand-alone web site. The Hulu player will be embedded on most of the major web portals--AOL, MSN, Yahoo and MySpace-- starting with episodes from 90 TV shows, all supported with ads.

A lot of these shows are available on NBC.com and Fox.com, but this has a broader goal, of aggregating a huge range of content. The company is going to experiment with distributing movies--starting with 10 films, including "Master and Commander" and "Sideways". And it's hoping to get all the media companies on board--it's reportedly had talks with CBS.

The real question--will Hulu strike a deal with YouTube? The fact that these shows are all aggregated could make it much easier to strike a licensing deal--but just last week NBC pulled its content from YouTube, taking down the NBC "channel".

And Hulu's special features aim to give users the kind of control over content to wrestle their attention away from YouTube. There's a tool to let you share TV shows or clips with your friends or post them on your blog. It seems like this would lead to more mash up capabilities--allowing people to really make that content their own, creating the kind of clips that inspire lawsuits on YouTube, but could be totally legit on this new site.

Will it work? There's a ton of competition--there are even a ton of other places to find this same content. For it to work, Hulu will have to get all the major media companies (or at least more of them) on board. It was amazing to see such die-hard competitors NBC Universal and News Corp team up. But that makes it even less likely that another huge competitor--like Viacom --will join the team.

And while YouTube is pretty inexpensive for Google , Hulu already has 100 employees (it's an independent company here in LA), and its employee numbers could expand fast as it gets more content providers. Bottom line: it's a good additional way for NBC and Fox to monetize their content, and it's good that they own the player they're embedding in other sites. Is it a game changer? Not yet.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.