Leave it to Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube to steal Hulu's thunder.
Just as Hulu -- the Joost-like video-sharing site bankrolled by News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) FOX and General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC Universal -- is exiting beta to roll out to the public, Google is announcing YouTube Everywhere, an initiative to open up the site even further to third-party developers.
One of the first companies to make the most of YouTube's wider API flexibility is TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) . The digital video recorder pioneer announced this morning that its latest generation of broadband-connected TiVo boxes will allow users to view YouTube clips directly on their television sets later this year.
Sure, even the Wii's Web browser allows you to do that, but it's just one more way to bring viral videos and couch potatoes together. And before you start complaining about the grainy quality of YouTube clips as they get blown up on your flatscreen, know that YouTube has been working on a high-def solution for months now.
The wave of YouTube news may trip up Hulu's grand opening festivities -- and that's a pity, because Hulu is a pretty amazing product.
As a beta tester back in October, I found it too buggy even by "private beta" standards. Hulu didn't work on all of the computers I tested it on, and there were content hiccups. I kicked the tires again last night, and I was blown away by the improvement. I was able to seamlessly play full, high-quality episodes of shows like Family Guy, The Office, and The Simpsons on the same PC that was spitting out Hulu a few months earlier.
Hulu's arrival doesn't mean that YouTube's days at the top are numbered. The availability of full-length studio content for free through other sites hasn't held it back. Joost is a stunning platform. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) has been offering Web streaming to subscribers at no additional cost for months. Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) ABC is offering its own shows through ABC.com.
What has become of YouTube in that time? Well, Alexa.com is showing that YouTube has now overtaken parent company Google in terms of overall Web traffic. Globally, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) is the only site drawing a bigger audience than YouTube, according to Alexa.
Sites like Hulu and Joost are more likely to cannibalize physical television viewing than online surfing. So it's great to see YouTube open its arms wider this morning. It will make it that much easier to bring Hulu into the growing family of online eye candy.
Here are some of the other recent eye-opening developments at YouTube: