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When I saw the headline last night that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had returned to Hulu, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was trying to watch The Daily Show at Comedy Central’s site and had just refreshed the page again after the video had failed some five times. The people at Comedy Central have proved themselves utterly, hopelessly incompetent at running a video site, where Hulu knows what it’s doing.

Both shows were yanked from Hulu nearly a year ago when the video streamer and Viacom couldn’t come to terms. Now they’re back, with the same terms for viewers as before – they’ll be on Hulu, for free, the day after they air.

Other shows, such as Jersey Shore and many other inane offerings from VH1 and MTV, as well as fare (inane and not) from TV Land, Comedy Central, BET, etc., won’t appear until 21 days after airing on cable. Those shows will be available for a fee via the Hulu Plus subscription service.

The deal also includes paid access for some archived shows through Hulu Plus. All Things Digital reports that the deal is costing Hulu between $40 million and $50 million.

Shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show get passed around online a lot, in large part because they’re pegged to the day’s news. That means it makes more sense to make them available in as many venues as possible right after they air, and it means that free Internet distribution is more lucrative for them than it is for, say, a reality show. Hence their near-immediate, and free, availability.

Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times’ Company Town blog notes that many of Viacom’s shows, including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, were available online all along, “so I’m not sure what the big deal is about this.” Perhaps he never tried to watch anything on Viacom’s own terribly designed, technically hopeless Web sites.

Whereas I’d had few problems with video on Hulu before the shows were yanked, I have spent the past year having the video freeze, necessitating a reload, or just fail to load at all, as happened last night. I had some kind of major problem about a third of the time. After I saw the news about the deal, I headed over to Hulu and found that Tuesday’s Daily Show was already there. I watched without a hitch.

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