Why Dave Gave Up On Hulu

I received the same Hulu email as Mari earlier this week. And it didn’t move me. I don’t want to stream full length feature films on my laptop. Hulu‘s real strength has been in shorter form television entertainment. (Given their NBC and FOX DNA, this comes as no surprise.)

During Hulu’s beta I was pretty tolerant of their “random episode” policy, figuring it’d take awhile to encode the content library. However, after many months I still see no rhyme nor reason to what shows are available and when.

For example there’s not much on TV these days, so when I heard about USA’s Pysch I dropped by Hulu to check it out. As you can see above (click to enlarge) – only a few episodes are offered, they’re not in any sensible (sequential) order, and at least one will expire (before I’d get to it). As someone who’s never seen Psych, at the very least Hulu needs to provide the first episode of each season so I can see what it’s all about without joining mid-stream. Ideally, they’d present the entire season – but even if they offered a few episodes, perhaps they’d hook me and I’d buy the DVD or (gasp) even watch live.

The bottom line here is that big media still doesn’t (seem to) get it. I’m willing to sit through the commercials, generating additional new revenue for these guys. Online, they need to focus less on (the false premise of) cannibalizing DVD sales or television viewing and focus more and monetizing what people are acquiring for free… or ultimately ignoring. Too hard to find Psych? Fine, I’ll skip it. They’re leaving money on the table.

16 thoughts on “Why Dave Gave Up On Hulu”

  1. Dave, you really nailed it as always. This is the same complaint that Glenn made on Mari’s post about Hulu. If fox is starting to advertise for the next season of the terminator now, they should have the first season posted on Hulu for people that didnt see it. Otherwise how do they expect to get more viewers to watch season 2? and if they dont get more viewers to watch season 2, then they shouldnt expect more dvd sales either, only less.

  2. Even for half hour TV episodes, I don’t find it pleasant to watch on my computer, and I don’t want to have to hook my laptop up to my TV. I like the instant gratification of online video, but if I have to watch it on my computer, I’ll usually pass. Things like Unbox and AppleTV, despite their significant limitations, are a lot more interesting to me than Hulu. Yes, I will watch on the computer if it’s my only option and it’s something that I really want to see, but very few things meet those criteria…

  3. As long as I can watch all of Arrested Development or The Big Lebowski, Hulu is alright in my book. I just wish it would stay in full screen mode when playing a playlist.

  4. I like the convenience of my recently acquired Netflix player. When my satellite service was disrupted last week because of storms, we watched Seasons 1-3 of the Office (w/o ads!) and it really made me love the show again and get excited for the new season. I think you are totally on point that Hulu just misses the mark by forcing viewers to conform to the arbitrary restrictions placed by the content owners. People nowadays are just used to watching on their own terms and that means on their TV, whenever they want, and for however long.

    I really liked watching episodes of Hell’s Kitchen on hulu but decided I preferred to watch it on my TV and not my computer screen which often means alternate sources (*cough*torrent*cough*).

  5. I’ve been watching the full episodes of Burn Notice in order to catch up after the series was rec’d here. Hulu’s got all the episodes and some additional content as well. No complaints here.

  6. My theory is that the folks who run Hulu (or maybe the media content providers) think that visiting Hulu should be like the pre-DVR days of channel surfing, when we would turn on the TV and keep changing channels until we found something that we wanted to watch. Go to Hulu, spend some time there, and surf around until you find something that interests you. Does somebody expect Hulu to become a destination in and of itself?

    The problem with this (assuming my theory is correct) is that the demographic that Hulu is targeting already has plenty of content to choose from on a local hard drive. We go to Hulu (and Unbox, etc) looking for something more specific, such as (like Dave says) a show that we have heard about and want to check out. We have no interest in surfing.

  7. I concur.

    I hate to say it, but I’ll continue to “acquire” shows the old fashioned way until someone steps up with a solution that is workable, or until they posit capped bandwidth on me (and then I’ll move to a FIOS area).

    By the by, “acquired” shows run really well on my Popcornhour A-100 – I’d do a proper review, but I don’t have an HDTV (shocking, I know).

  8. @dwgsp You’re exactly right. It’s hard to go to Hulu looking for something specific, unless it’s something Hulu itself is promoting. On the other hand, I am so devoid of network shows right now, channel surfing on Hulu is not a bad option. Would be better with a Slingcatcher! :)

    @Big John I’d love to see your Popcorn Hour review. Was considering it…

  9. As someone who works for a “big media” company (it’s not Hulu), I’d like to respond. We get it. Just like you, I’d like to be able to watch any show online whenever I want. It’s not that these big media companies don’t want to let you do that due to fear of DVD cannibalization or anything else. It’s due to guild (DGA, WGA, SAG, etc.) rules that make it prohibitive for us to offer a huge catalog.

    If you remember the Writer’s Guild strike from several months ago, one of the items they were fighting for was more money from online streaming. The settlement (which you can find here: http://weblogs.variety.com/wga_strike_blog/files/wga_tent_summary-1.pdf — try reading it and you’ll understand why it’s not easy for us to explain this sort of stuff to consumers) basically makes “big media” pay WGA members (as well as other guilds) for episodes that are put online with advertising after 17 days (24 days if the show is in the first season). Since this is based on the show’s “distributor’s gross receipts,” this means that the site needs to pay the guilds regardless of how many people watch the show online (and how much money is made from the advertising). So, for example, an episode of Pysch might cost USA $1000 (that number is totally made up) but USA has no guarantee that it will make $1000 in ad revenue from that episode. Multiply that out across every episode of every TV show and you’ll have a huge (multimillion) dollar fee just to put the shows online with no certainty whether you can make any money from them.

    The seeming randomness that some of you note in the comments (why some shows have all the episodes and some don’t) is partially a reaction to this. Some networks are gambling, hoping that by putting entire seasons of some shows online will lead to increases in ad revenue but to just put entire catalogs out there is extremely risky from a financial standpoint. The price of a show also differs from show to show of course so some are more expensive to offer online.

    Electronic sell through (eg. iTunes) has a different model which is a little less financially risky.

    All that said, at the end of the day, you’re right. The consumer doesn’t care about guilds, financials, etc. and just wants to be able to access their content. Big media realizes this and is working on figuring out a way to do that but just saying big media doesn’t get it is overly simplistic and doesn’t take into account all the business and financial deals that need to be overcome before this can happen.

  10. I appreciate your insight and level-headed presentation. However, those various guilds are part of big media, and collectively you’re leaving royalties/revenue on the table.

    I don’t doubt the complexity and I’m sure there’s lots of licensing and dealmaking that needs to get done. But I imagine the RIAA had similar things to say while they dragged their feet during the tail spin – annual music sales have plummeted by about 4 BILLION dollars (~30%) since their peak in 1999. (TWICE)

  11. dave,

    I completely agree with you. I use hulu a bit to watch episodes I missed or try out new shows. But when I wanted to watch a whole season of “24”, I found it out there on the internet. Hulu ads are totally annoying in that you can’t skip them at all. The player is pretty good, but I wouldn’t call that a breakthrough and watching on a laptop sucks but ok if you don’t want to take the extra step of getting it on the tivo.

  12. @Dinosaur Media mouth piece…err I mean @ BigMediaPeep

    So your response to the accusation that you “don’t get it” is to condescendingly state you’re in hostile negotiations with unionized labor and rather than improve your product offering you are just going do nothing and presume its all too complicated for us consumers to understand and we will just do what we’re told? Wow.

    I think you long winded, lawyered-up answer is proof you really do not “get it” and I advise you hire Dave Zatz as your full time “Reality Consultant” – since you are obviously in the same delusional state ( induced by greed? ) that the music industry was in 10 years ago.

  13. Interesting that a big media person reads this blog…

    Like others though I don’t much care about such details. Either the show is available or it isn’t. Personally I’m sympathetic to the actors and writers rather than the big media companies, but I don’t care about it enough to research the subject (Tina Fey’s riff during her Saturday Night Live appearance after the strike is about all I want to know, thanks).

    I have lots of media available, and lots of ways to watch it. If your site/portal can’t deliver me content I’m looking for, I’m not going to bother with it.

    And its not just Hulu, Dave. Lately I’ve tried all of the major web sites (meaning ABC.com, FOX.com, etc) and none of them are really doing it for me. Other than Comedy Central, which has ALL the Daily Show episodes up… So now I got there a LOT.

    Also, the ad thing… If you’re going to put ads in, could you make the four ads I watch DIFFERENT ADS? Its really boring watching the same ad four times…

  14. I loved Hulu in it’s early days, even with less content and a more random list of eps. Lately it is dragging bad for me, crashing, lagging. I’ll let a video buffer for a few seconds, to a few minutes, to a few HOURS! With often no benefit, and sometimes clearly worse results. Between the volume levels, the vieo quality, the poor selection and lazy show promotion, this is just not a serious step into a web-tv hybrid. Just like the crappy websites even the best newspapers made, the greedy owners of big networks made their fortunes. They simply are not concerned with reaching out to anyone younger than the baby-boomers. If we want great content, with great quality, we have to stop relying on a light-bulb company, and a defunct dial-up ISP company for our “art” (yeah I said it! ART!)

    HBO is a great premium channel, and it makes some of the best episodic theatre (TV-Shows) that we’ve seen. I would love to see people (myself actually) forming a channel for the web designed to provide high quality shows at a reasonable price. Maybe there does need to be some subscription fee, maybe we have gotten free entertainment at the cost of brain-washing ads for too long.

    I mean look up a few comments, someone actually complained about not being able to skip ads on HULU! we have to stop thinking we should all get something for nothing. Do you honestly think we should all get 40 hours of shows a week to watch and not have to pay anything, an on top of that you can’t even be bothered to watch 2 30-second spots? Wow, you must have grown up with some kind of silver spoon to have that impression of the world.

    Believe it or not, beyond the greedy business element, there are artists, techs, directors, actors, stylists, and a wealth of other industries that are all fed by both hollywood film an television industries. I would love to see them get what they deserve, but lets use our awesome inter-webs to cut out the greedy middle-men/women. The execs who cancel our favorite shows to start another reality show, massive corporations who buy networks to spin their brand.

    If you folks can’t see it, I can’t do it for you. But I urge you to take a moment to think about what good television/art/music/books/theatre is worth to you. Do you think we might be just getting what we “pay” for?

    But who knows, I’m just a me ;D

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