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For the networks, television's future is online

The launch of online syndication sites such as hulu.com underscore how television companies are using the Internet to leverage their key asset: well-made content.

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Predicting the death of network television is a popular pastime in Hollywood. After three decades of audience erosion to cable, the doomsaying has intensified in recent years as video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Facebook have demonstrated an audience of millions for low-budget video.

But it's still not time to count the Big Five networks out yet, say media watchers. They may have stumbled in the transition to the world of digital entertainment, underestimating audience appetite for consumption in new media beyond traditional TV, but they're rapidly trying to adapt.

This week, hulu.com a new, ad-supported site launched in partnership with Fox and NBC, showcases both companies' programming via streaming video. ABC recently launched Stage 9 Digital Media, an online production house for short-form content. CBS has assembled a partnership of some 300 online syndication outlets such as AOL and Joost. And Fox has acquired the wildly successful social-networking website, MySpace. In part, the networks hope their online offerings will spur interest in traditional television programming. But, more than that, the networks want to establish bulwarks in the online universe where they can leverage their primary assets: well-crafted content.

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