Web surfers who put the names of CBS and ABC programs into the search function at hulu.com (which is in the midst of a beta test available to a limited audience) may find that Hulu can help find videos of programs on those networks -- which are not part of the site's own offerings. Hulu users who do such searches are given an index of available episodes as well as a link to see them on the network's website or on AOL, which runs some ABC and CBS programs.
CBS and ABC may scoff, happy to get additional web traffic. But they could be missing something: By including rival shows in its search capabilities, Hulu can develop a name for itself as a place where surfers can find video from shows on any network, not just NBC or Fox. Hulu's backers are trying to establish the site as a portal for high-quality video, just as YouTube got off to a running start by letting users post and search all kinds of video -- with or without owners' permission.
Entering "CSI," for example, brings up five pages of links to the three versions of the program -- "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York" -- available from CBS, AOL and even A&E.
"Hulu wants to be the first place people think about watching premium programming online," said spokeswoman Christina Lee. "We'll continue to innovate on features like this throughout the private beta to help people find and enjoy premium content whether or not it is currently featured on Hulu.com."
During a recent question-and-answer session, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker suggested that advertisers were seeking a safer environment online and might want to avoid having their ads placed alongside video with questionable content. In a recent interview, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar said advertisers could see a "halo effect" from having their ads paired with "high-quality" video.
Hulu, which has established a network of distribution partners such as AOL, Comcast's Fancast.com, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo, plans to be in private beta for at least a couple of months, according to one of its executives.