Hulu Isn’t As Good As It Should Be, Right?

Who were the ad wizards that came up with this one?

Who were the ad wizards that came up with this one?

As soon as any new tech wave breaks from the vast, endless sea of start-ups, gadgets, and Twitter trends, I am always the first one to ride. For whatever reason, I was late to the Hulu party but now I’m not quite sure why I bothered RSVPing, let alone attending. Here’s the theory: offer easy-to-use online streaming of popular television shows and movies and support the typical advertising backend with embedded short, socially conscientious promotional material. Man, I have to say, that sounds AWESOME! And now the reality: HULUFAIL. Last night I wanted to watch some quality network television dramatic programming on the internet. To my horror, Kings has yet to post another episode beyond Ep 5: Judgment Day. The wheels in my head began turning: what is a new show I was mildly interested in watching  but missed the premiere of? Joss Whedon’s next attempt at Buffy success, Dollhouse was the first thing that came to mind. And what episodes of the show was Hulu featuring? Episodes 8 – 12. I’m sure I can figure out what’s going on by starting with Episode 8 of a highly complex, sci-fi geek-out show about people who exist in multiple worlds at the same time… oh wait… I can’t, because my IQ isn’t 300.

Here’s the problem for me: if a television show was technically FREE when it aired (advertising costs yadda yadda aside, if I have rabbit ears I can still pull the signal off the air for free at least until June 12), then why in God’s name would someone limit the amount of episodes that are on a site designed to allow viewers to watch episodes a la carte? The fact that most shows only have the 5 most recent episodes with expiration dates attached to them seems like highway robbery to me. Is it a question of bandwidth? If Hulu can afford to hire Peter Berg to direct Super Bowl commercials starring Alec Baldwin, I’ll bet they can afford a few more servers. So what is it? At least when the recording industry consistently fails at monetizing the digital wave in a way that benefits everyone, they stop, sue somebody’s Grandma, and try something else. Hulu seems to be stuck in a similar Stone Age mindset. I can only assume that the reason they aren’t letting people get the content they deserve is a question of money (cashflow is the only reason the entertainment industry is ever biased about anything, thanks D. Rubes). I’d be very interested to see the statistics that suggest that offering more than 5 episodes of a TV show online (that initially aired on a network and are yet to be released on DVD) WITH embedded ads is a financial constraint on the companies that are producing it. A pie chart from a color printer, would be great actually.

The only saving grace for me in the whole Hulu experience is when the following error message comes up:


And I quote, “To ensure advertisements play properly…” and then “If you continue to experience issues, please email us…” Wait, WHAT? Let me get this straight: after not allowing me to watch more than 5 episodes of a current season of TV, they have the audacity to suggest that I should adjust my computer settings to allow ads to play properly? And if that doesn’t work I should take the time to send them an email? I have to hand it to you Hulu, you’ve got some balls. Here’s my tentative email:

“Dear Hulu,

I was so overwhelmed by the amount of streaming video you offer (5 videos per TV show?! you guyz are SO CrAzY, roflmao!) that when the unskippable advertisements didn’t play in the middle of my show, I almost dropped dead. Not only do I tune in to your site for the best variety of content around (Heroes AND Family Guy!?), the advertisements that are embedded in the videos are so important to me that sometimes I forget what show I’m watching. So when the ads wouldn’t load, I have to say, I almost threw my computer out the window in anger! Luckily you posted this message on what to do in case the ads aren’t loading correctly. If you didn’t I probably would’ve jumped off the nearest cliff (JK! My mom would KILL me hahahahaha).”

Hey Hulu: step your game up.

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13 Responses to “Hulu Isn’t As Good As It Should Be, Right?”

  1. ebregman Says:

    it has to do with distribution deals that the big nets are willing to make. if hulu had its way, we’d be watching entire seasons of every show before they aired on TV – that would obviously drive traffic to the site and drive up the value of the ad inventory. but TV nets are scared of putting their stuff online for free, for fear of it cannibalizing their TV ratings. which, by the way, is a bullshit excuse – every study shows TV viewership increases as online viewership increases.

    • DJ Steve Says:

      I’m not talking about offering entire seasons before they air on TV, obviously the result of that would be lower ratings and hence not in the favor of the nets. But once the episode has aired, the ad time has been sold and played out on the network, who the hell cares about offering it again online?

      and its not just Hulu. NBC used to have full seasons as well and they changed it to only 5. If DVD sales were an issue, they could over the episodes online until the DVD season release and then pull some back or something else… it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me

  2. raige Says:

    right there with you steve, right there with you, i don’t even bother looking on hulu anymore cause it hardly ever has what i’m looking for. i do admit to using it for catching up on it’s always sunny though.. oh wait, the only episodes still up are 3-7, 9, 13, 14 of season 3.

  3. Vikash Says:

    hahahaha! the only resolve i have for you is…”sounds like a scary dog, mannn!”

  4. Gunnar Says:

    I would imagine that there is still a ton of money made from “complete season” DVD sales. The execs doing the licensing deal with Hulu probably assumed sales of recent seasons would be hurt if anybody could watch it all for free. I think that’s why they put up whole seasons of older shows (like Arrested Development!), because they can get more revenue from Hulu ad sales than DVD sales.

    Hopefully it’ll change for the better sometime soon.

  5. JES Says:

    Thanks so much for this… I’ve been telling The Missus all this time about this “great service” that lets you “watch back episodes of TV shows” for “free.” Disappointed but not entirely surprised that once again, media executives show an intuitive failure to grasp the obvious!

    Given the Alec Baldwin connection, I wonder how much of 30 Rock is available there…?

  6. jeff Says:

    i agree that dvd sales are probably the best explanation for the limited episodes. also i wouldnt expect them to change their biz model any time soon. they still have explosive growth and now with ABC jumping on board……though not sure how many new users these shows will bring in. it seems like the people that watch these shows are already on the bandwagon.

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