Hulu… Plus?

A couple months ago I wrote about changing how we watch TV and near the end of the month I did get a Hulu Plus invite.  It’s been a while, and we just cancelled our DirecTV subscription (though they tried to give us some good deals on lower prices, they all still required a two year contract – no thanks).  We have used both Netflix and Hulu on the PS3 to fill the “void” from a live subscription TV service.  I think the kids have used our Netflix subscription more than we have so far – we’ve watched and returned three DVDs (the third just went back in today’s mail), but viewed considerable hours on the streaming service – and they have a new-found appreciation for the “Land Before Time” series of movies.  I’ve used the streaming service from work during my lunch breaks, and fell in love with the show Firefly (Serenity is in the queue as well though I’ve also got hooked on Doctor Who and Torchwood).  We’ve all enjoyed previous episodes of “Wallace & Gromit” (even some that I have on DVD currently) and were introduced to “Shaun the Sheep” as well as a new Wallace & Gromit episode we hadn’t yet seen (“A Matter of Loaf and Death”).  So, how is Hulu treating us?  Well.. it looks pretty, and it works great on the computer.  It works great on the PS3 too, but we haven’t watched much on it.  Unfortunately that can be blamed on the TV studios, but Hulu is taking the brunt of the complaints.

I had heard the rumblings when Hulu Plus was first rolling out; disparity between content available on the iPad and the web site, and of course since the web interface is using Flash you don’t have the option of just watching in Safari on your device.  There were musings and speculation, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that someone actually from Hulu responded to the comments and shed some light on the problem.  As many surmised, the problem is because of the studios; namely, when the content was licensed for Hulu to play on the web, they’re not allowed to send that content to a mobile device or a TV.  This is quite likely why there was a point where Hulu actively blocked the PS3 browser from connecting, though I never dug through to find out if that was confirmed.

What does this mean?  Out of the 15 series that we “subscribe” to, only nine are available on the PS3.  Notable exclusions were Burn Notice and Eureka, probably the two shows (plus news broadcasts for Stephanie) which kept us holding on to a terrestrial or satellite TV subscription for the longest time (Note: Eureka has since been added to the list, so we can stream it to the PS3 now).  We can still watch them on the web interface – which we did Friday night when we realized we were a couple episodes behind in Eureka because the DVR didn’t record a couple – and it’s certainly viewable.  But it removes the possibility of sitting in the living room without doing some other trickery, which is the whole point in my opinion for having the subscription to Hulu Plus in the first place.  If I wanted trickery, I’d have bought a media PC and just used the Hulu website.

But again, not all the blame can fall on Hulu.  SyFy is partially to blame, as well as USA Networks, since they haven’t allowed the license to Hulu to extend to mobile devices and TVs.  There’s a part of me that believes Hulu should have tried to make all this happen *before* launching Hulu Plus, and a much larger part that is annoyed that the disparity between what is available where should have been a lot more prominently displayed (though from a business standpoint, I can understand why they would be reluctant to advertise that their free service provides “more”[1] content than the paid service).

Another major complaint that some have about Hulu Plus is the fact that they’re paying for a service, and have to see ads in the content.  I will admit that when I heard it would continue to have ad breaks, I was a little disappointed.  However, unless you get over-the-air terrestrial broadcasts on a pair of rabbit ears, you are paying to watch ads.  Turn on your Comcast DVR, which you probably pay at least $80/mo for, and you see ads on NBC.  Turn on your DirecTV box, and you see ads on Fox.  Just because you’re paying for a service does not mean that it’s not still ad-supported.  On the upside, the length of the ads is short enough that it’s roughly the same amount of time I would have spent fast forwarding through a regular commercial break.  Hulu also describes the ads as required to keep the subscription cost down.

So how do I feel about it all?  It’s been a little less than a week since we canceled DirecTV, and just today the Netflix app is now directly installed on the PS3 (no more “Instant Streaming Disc” required) which my quick glance this morning looked pretty good.  But when I turned on the old DVR to erase it before sending it back, I realized something – I hadn’t actually watched anything on there in quite some time.  The shows that we wanted to watch together (House and Castle mostly, though Stephanie watches other shows which are currently in season) we’d been watching in Hulu Plus on the PS3, and the DirecTV box was relegated to holding some of the kids’ shows like Sid the Science Kid and Clifford.  With options for those shows on Netflix as well, we really had no reason to keep the DirecTV subscription, except for current news.  I’ve been fine getting news via the Internet for some time, and Stephanie is getting comfortable with it… so there’s an extra $78/mo in our pockets.  As for Hulu Plus, when we first signed up for it there was no way to watch Eureka or Burn Notice, the two shows that were still in season at the time and therefore unavailable on the PS3.  Since then Eureka has been added, and it’s of course in Hulu’s best interest to get all shows available on all the platforms so I’m hoping Burn Notice will be along shortly.  Either way, I consider it a price I pay to be an “early adopter” of the system, and not a very high price at that.  All in all I’d say it’s worth it.

  1. While the disparity between Hulu and Hulu Plus could be considered Hulu Plus having less content, the fact remains that all of the shows are still visible on the web interface.  Many shows are expanded beyond the 4-5 episodes usually available to either a full season while it’s airing, or all of the back episodes of a show, which would usually be truncated in the standard free Hulu offerings.  Therefore, even though some Hulu Plus content isn’t visible on mobile devices or the PS3, there is actually more content available on the service than not.

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