Hulu announced today that it has struck a deal with Sony to be the exclusive home of digital syndication for '.' Hulu Plus subscribers will have access to all episodes of the series, including the first two seasons. The free Hulu service along with NBC.com will continue to offer the five most recent episodes of the show.
In a blog post that also slobbered all over the goodness that is Hulu's director of content acquisition, Alex Kruglov wrote:,
It’s my great pleasure to announce that starting today,is coming to Hulu and Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus will be the exclusive place where fans can watch every episode from every season. Fans can now watch every episode (current and back seasons) of on the Hulu Plus subscription service. Hulu Plus subscribers will have next-day access to current season episodes of Community as well as the entire back library of seasons 1 and 2, in HD, on Internet-connected TVs, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, set top boxes, and mobile phones and tablets. Users of the free Hulu service can continue to watch five episodes of the current season the day after air.
The good news is Sony was able to at least get some (unknown) amount of money for Community's digital syndication and Hulu Plus subscribers could theoretically catch up on Community and then start watching it on TV. The bad news is that relative to Netflix there aren't very many Hulu Plus subscribers -- it hit one million subscribers in September. While "get some money" is a philosophy I can relate to, it's not one that's likely to benefit Community's ratings when it returns from hiatus. From a "help the ratings" perspective, a more creative (but certainly less financially lucrative, at least in the short term) solution might have been to give it away to Netflix for free during the duration of the hiatus.
Without knowing the specifics of the deal I can't do anything but speculate about whether it helps the show's chances for a fourth season, I'd speculate that while it certainly doesn't hurt, it isn't likely to be a factor.