Just hours before it is scheduled to remove content from two popular Comedy Central shows from online TV site Hulu, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman told an audience at an investor conference that it could return to the site, but only if there was a way to monetize the content.
Viacom is scheduled to pull two popular Comedy Central programs -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report -- from Hulu.com at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on March 9. At the Credit Suisse Global Media and Communications conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Dauman said that the shows could eventually return to the online service.
Dauman said that Viacom always considered its Hulu relationship, which began 21 months ago, a test.
"In the current economic model, there is not that much in it for us to continue at this time," Dauman said at the conference. "If they can get to the point where the monetization model is better, then we may go back."
Hulu, which is owned by NBC Universal, News Corp., and the Walt Disney Co., launched as a free service in 2007. The site, which offers thousands of videos and clips with limited commercial interruption, has been mulling a pay model but has yet to formalize any plans to charge for content.
Dauman added that the advertising market is perking up for the company, and that he expects a strong showing in the coming upfronts.
Ad revenue was down 4% in the fourth quarter and Dauman said that there are signs of improvement.
"I could see us getting to flat [ad growth] year-over-year for the first quarter," Dauman said.
He added that the upfront also is looking like it will be completed sooner and pricing will be "significantly higher" than last year.
Dauman also said that investors should expect more announcements regarding carriage for its Epix premium movie channel. The service already has agreements with Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Verizon, Mediacom Communications and the National Cable and Telecommunications Cooperative. A joint venture between Viacom's Paramount studio, Lions Gate Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Epix is on track to becoming operating cash flow positive next year, he said.