By Ryan Lawler
After years of speculation, Hulu has finally done a deal with CBS (NYSE:CBS), bringing shows from the one broadcast holdout into its content library. Beginning in January, CBS content will become available through Hulu Plus. But don’t get too excited: You won’t be able to watch "Big Bang Theory" through Hulu’s iPad app in January — it’ll just be a selection of older, so-called library content that Hulu is getting.
The deal is notable, as CBS was the one network missing from Hulu’s broadcast partners. That said, Hulu won’t be getting the same next-day access to broadcast programming that ABC (NYSE:DIS), Fox (NASDAQ:NWS), and NBC (NASDAQ:CMCSA) give it. Instead, the deal is for a bunch of off-air shows, and CBS.com will remain the place to find ad-supported, on-demand videos of the network’s current slate of programming.
Hulu will begin distributing more than 2,600 episodes of CBS’ library content — that is, shows that have already fallen out of the broadcast window. So stuff like "Star Trek", "I Love Lucy", and "The Twilight Zone" will become available, as well as some newer (but still cancelled) series like "Medium", "Numb3rs", and "CSI: Miami". As far as I can tell, the content involved is similar to the stuff Netflix got when it struck a non-exclusive deal with CBS early last year.
In addition to making that catalog content available to Hulu Plus subscribers, Hulu will also make a selection of shows available through its classic ad-supported website on a rolling basis. So certain "Twilight Zone" episodes may be available one month, while "Star Trek" shows are available the next month.
The CBS deal comes as Hulu faces a number of internal questions in the wake of buying out early investor Providence Equity Partners. That means that Hulu is controlled entirely by its parents and content partners Fox, Disney, and NBC Universal. That deal triggered a liquidity event through which all employees with stock were able to cash out, leaving some key executives — like CEO Jason Kilar — little reason to stick around. There’s a lot to change ahead for Hulu in the next 12 months, so getting an unexpected content partner on board is positive news.