Monday, May 12, 2014

This Week in Instant Watching: Hulu

So let's talk about what's being going on in the world of streaming the last few weeks.

Hey, remember how I was complaining every week about Hulu not adding the CBS library shows as had been announced months ago? Well, with apologies to the Wyatt Family (sorry--WWE reference), "They're here." Sort of.

Yes, although it is hard to find information about new shows coming to Hulu, especially on platforms like Roku, where additions can be buried for some reason, I did notice some newcomers that excited me--believe it or not, even more than new programs Sex Sent Me to the E.R. an d America's Worst Tattoos. Yep, some of those CBS oldies have arrived!

Only, there's a catch. You know there's a catch with Hulu. There almost always is, right? First let me mention some of the titles:

The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Taxi, Beverly Hills 90210, Everybody Loves Raymond, Everybody Hates Chris, Cheers, Felix the Cat Platinum Collection.

OK, "Felix the Cat" has nothing to do with CBS, but I'm still happy it's there. I enjoyed watching them with my daughter when they were on Netflix a few years ago.

So a lot of CBS hits, and I am not even mentioning America's Next Top Model. Seriously, forget I just typed that. Lots of new content, right? And while I think virtually everyone is streaming "Cheers," most of these haven't been streaming anywhere, ever. On the surface, this is a coup for Hulu.

The thing is that only some of the episodes are there. Now, this approach doesn't fly in this day and age. A few places can get away with a "curated" (usually random) assortment of episodes, like Crackle's 10 Seinfelds a month, but this ain't that. Mork offers 39 of 95 episodes, Laverne has 38 of 178, Taxi 75 of 114, and The Odd Couple 65 of 114. Lame!

Faring better are "Everybody Hates Chris" (75 of 88) and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Cheers," which are apparently complete. Oddly, "90210" is the only one of these offering just one season, but at least it's the first season and is intact. Now, that approach at least makes sense. I'm not sure why putting up, say, 3 episodes in a single season of "Laverne and Shirley" is the way to go.

And you might think, well, this is just a start, and more episodes will be added later. Folks, let me tell you something about Hulu. It doesn't "add episodes later." If they aren't up when the series launches, or pretty soon thereafter, they ain't coming. Ask fans of Lou Grant, Bob Newhart Show, Mary Tyler Moore, St. Elsewhere, The Rockford Files, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was a big deal to me when Kojak added season 1 to go along with season 2 and 3--but it had been taken down a month earlier, so it wasn't a new batch of episodes, just the return of previously available ones!

Heck, ask fans of another CBS show that was added last year--I Love Lucy, which is represented by just over 100 of 181 episodes.

Another of my patented research efforts--yep, going to Facebook--yielded little information. Here's an exchange between a curious customer and a Hulu rep about when (or if) more episodes will arrive:

Glad to see the additions of MORK & MINDY, THE ODD COUPLE, TAXI, and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. I noticed that many episodes are missing (rights issues, I suppose). Will more become available as time goes on?

Correct. It looks like we'll have a limited number of episodes available. No word yet on how/if episodes will be added. I've reached out to our content team. I recommend keeping an eye on the show pages ( ), for updates to the availability notes.

No word on how/if episodes will be added? Well, when are you gonna know? And the friendly advice isn't so useful. That's one of the problems with Hulu--we don't know when new things are added unless it's a new show that is being heavily promoted. Instead of making fans go to the show pages constantly and try to guess if something new is there, why not send emails or some kind of alerts to people who express an interest in seeing more than 22% of a series' episodes?

This is good news for Hulu users, yes, but it could be and should be a lot better. Complete seasons, if not complete series, are what streamers want to see. If you can't offer that, Hulu, at least try to be a little forthcoming about what you DO offer and maybe even why. I don't believe that dozens of "Taxi" episodes are missing just because of "rights issues." Is something else going on? Are you only paying for a certain amount? Is CBS only willing to license a certain amount? We'd like to know.


Anonymous said...

It is usually licensing issues related to music used in the episode that was never initially licensed for streaming use. Like with everybody hates Chris, most of the missing episodes involve one of the characters singing or lipsynching a song, which is difficult to replace with other music. Netflix and Amazon had this issue early on with Frasier, but eventually CBS gained streaming rights to the missing episodes. Presumably they will also do this with other CBS owned content. Not really Hulu's fault here. CBS has to secure proper licensing for streaming that content.

Rick Brooks said...

I appreciate the thoughtful response. I would just point out that the lack of transparency on Hulu's part doesn't make things any easier. Maybe it's a philosophical difference between Netflix and Hulu, but I much prefer the former's approach of adding entire series runs, not a handful of episodes. And why was, last I checked, Hulu touting "Watch the full series online" for "Mork and Mindy" when it has so few episodes available?

Sarah Purdy said...

You can watch Mork & Mindy on Dailymotion