Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

-- From "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan.

And Disney is changing with the times.

Online video destination Hulu just gained its third fairy godmother. Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) joined ranks with News Corp. (NYSE:NWS) and General Electrics' (NYSE:GE) NBC Universal unit as it bought a nearly 30% stake in Hulu. Now, the only major network missing from that one-stop all-you-can-watch site is CBS (NYSE:CBS).

You can't watch Ugly Betty or Desperate Housewives on Hulu just yet (but Scripps does offer Desperate Landscapes from its DIY Channel). For now, you still have to visit ABC.com for that -- but since ABC's own video service is quite good, that's not too bad of a trade-off.

Given the strength of Disney's own solution, one can only surmise that ABC parent Disney wanted to have a hand in how commercial video content gets distributed and watched from now on. Hulu is a strong contender for the title of "most popular full-length video aggregator" in the next few years. Other alternatives include TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO), which appears to be growing its digital video recorder expertise into a software-based media hub, and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), which is doing the same thing based on a decade of movie rental experience.

Disney, like NBC and News Corp.'s Fox before it, clearly saw potential in Hulu and didn't want to leave such a powerful toll entirely in the hands of the competition.

Mind you, the last time most of the major content producers worked together on an online content channel, the result was a struggling venture named Movielink, which was sold to Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI) when infighting between part-owners like Universal and Warner Brothers made progress impossible. But I believe that the networks have learned from the past, and should be able to make Hulu work, what with another few years of online content experience under their belts.

I believe that Disney, News Corp., and GE will all make out like bandits when the online content market evolves a bit further. Whether that happens by constructing a directly profitable business model around Hulu, or selling the venture to somebody else for a multibagger return, remains to be seen. Either way, these three companies will look smart in the history books for owning Hulu early.

Further Foolishness:

Walt Disney and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Disney is also a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Netflix and Disney, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.