Monday, April 13, 2015

TV: The rise of Netflix, the fall of Hulu

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all about Netflix as the country rushed to stream Marvel's Daredevil.  Netflix took up so much of the media conversation that few are even talking about Deadbeat returning for season two to Hulu.


Hulu started in 2007 and was something of a novelty.  Early streamers got it.  They enjoyed the films Hulu offered -- like Doris Day's Caprice, Vincent Price's Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and William Castle's The Spirit Is Willing.  But mainly they enjoyed being able to catch TV shows.

Hulu offered the network TV shows -- all but CBS eventually. (And all but CBS still.)  Back then, you could watch, for example, an NBC show the day after it aired on NBC.

Hulu 'got' it.

CBS didn't.  NBC didn't.

Harry's Law was a successful show on NBC starring Kathy Bates.  And they ran off the audience by, in season two, deciding to stop streaming.

Streaming had helped make NBC's Chuck a hit.

And the backlash from ardent Chuck fans -- many who watched a week's episode five and six times -- was loud and clear when, in fall 2011 during the show's final season, NBC decided to stop streaming the show.

Fall 2011 found NBC struggling as they faced a backlash from viewers now conditioned to get content online.

NBC got it and then they got greedy.

When they went greedy, they caused their own self-destruction.

CBS didn't get it and CBS was always greedy.

Leslie Moonves missed the digital revolution going on around him.

Which is why the CBS head nixed joining Hulu even after it all the other majors were in.

His ignorance could be seen in his refusal to allow CBS programming to stream.

He was convinced that allowing that to happen would cut into CBS' ratings.

So immense was his stupidity that he even refused to allow episodes of The Big Bang Theory to be sold online via iTunes or Amazon.

Today, he's rushing to catch up -- CBS is developing several levels of online options -- but the reality is that stockholders should have long ago asked Moonves for an estimate of how much money CBS lost as a result of his stupidity?


Hulu had power.

Fringe wouldn't have been the success it was without Hulu.

Season one of Fringe set a record for streaming -- and, in fact, for streaming in the workplace.  Fringe became the show loyalists shared with co-workers, sent them a Hulu link, said "check this out."  Chuck was another Hulu sensation.  ABC's Cougar Town (fall 2009) was the first sitcom to register and benefit from Hulu.

Hulu had impact.

It had power.

That now seems so long ago.

Hulu streamers today have to wait a week after CBS, NBC or ABC airs an episode to stream it on Hulu.

As the economy continued to tank, Hulu was one of the ways to drop cable and still enjoy entertainment programming.

But that changed in November 2010 as Hulu launched Hulu Plus.

For $7.99 a month, you could have Hulu Plus.

Like free Hulu, Hulu Plus features commercials -- not trailers, paid commercials for products.

Unlike free Hulu, you could watch programming the next day -- the way it once was for Hulu.

Fringe was helped by Hulu at the start of the series.  At the start of Hulu Plus, Fringe was able to return the favor.  With Fox now refusing to allow streaming of their programs until a week after and Fringe winding down, those who'd given up cable and satellite TV flocked to Hulu Plus to pony up $7.99 a month and be able to see their favorite show the day after the episode aired.

Netflix, during all of this, was the Redbox or Blockbuster by mail service.

You paid X number a month to have X number of DVDs out at a time.

You also had streaming.

Streaming mattered then at Netflix mainly due to their deal with Starz.

You could stream Starz online in real time.  Or you could stream the variety of films and TV series the network offered.

When the two parted ways, Netflix suffered and, to this day, it has not found a way to bring back their level of classic films available for streaming.

But Netflix was focused on something different.

There were bumps along the way such as when they tried to end the DVD plans and subscribers objected.

But the main thing they wanted to move to was original programming.

They were a supplement to Hulu in some ways.

On Hulu, for example, you could stream episodes of a show from this season -- at least the five most recently aired.  If you were lucky, you could find the previous seasons on Netflix.

Without original programming, Netflix would always be behind Hulu with regards to television.

Early on, Netflix was exploring picking up programming.  When NBC took the axe to The Event, for example, there was talk that Netflix would rescue the show (did not happen).  When ABC took the axe to Happy Endings, there was talk that Netflix would rescue the show (did not happen).

But Netflix did bring back Fox's Arrested Development for a season several years after the show had ceased production.  (And they'll be bringing the sitcom back for another season of new episodes.)

And they did greenlight a fourth season of The Killing after AMC cancelled the show (for the second time).   They also became the US broadcaster for Lilyhammer as well as for Gillian Anderson's The Fall.

And then there were the shows created exclusively for Netflix.  House of Cards and Hemlock Grove premiered around the same time.  House of Cards has gone on to win four Emmy awards and two Golden Globes and Hemlock Grove (which set Netflix streaming records when the first season was released) has been nominated for two Emmys.  Since then, they've added Jenji Kohan's Orange Is The New Black (which has won 3 Emmys), the Lorenzo Richelmy and Joan Chen vehicle Marco Polo, Tina Fey's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Kyle Chandler vehicle Bloodlines and now Marvel's Daredevil.

Next month will see the debut of the Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin sitcom Grace and Frankie as well as the drama Between with the Wachowskis' Sense8 following in June.

Netflix has offered new programming starring the likes of Jane, Lily, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Famke Janssen, Lili Taylor, Kyle Chandler, Joan Chen, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Gerald McRaney, Carole Kane, Rosario Dawson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, David Cross, Jessica Walter, Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman and plans to debut its first original talk show -- hosted by Chelsea Handler -- next year.


Well they did do a talk show -- Spoilers With Kevin Smith.  They carried the ten episode first season. The second season wasn't carried by Hulu.

Season two's a real problem for Hulu.

The only show that currently has a second season scheduled premier is the hideous Deadbeat which offers new episodes (ten) beginning April 20th.

That alleged sitcom stars Tyler Labine -- who may prompt the question, "Who?"

However, the better question is: Why?

He tanked in Reaper, Sons of Tuscon, Mad Love and Animal Practice.

That means he's failed on The CW, Fox, CBS and NBC.

And, of course, on Hulu.

But Hulu's failing period.

The Simpsons hasn't aired a new episode since March 15th.

That doesn't effect Netflix.

But it does effect Hulu and Hulu Plus since the Fox sitcom remains one of the most popular shows Hulu offers.   There has been no breakout series for Hulu this season -- no breakout series that the networks have developed.  And Hulu is stranded by that as well.

When people pay $7.99 a month for your service, they have a right to expect that you'll provide something.

Hulu Plus doesn't.

This is most clear if a subscriber does a search by network.

Search that way and select USA or FX.

Go ahead, we'll wait.

Did you see it?

16 episodes of this, X episodes of that.

Now try to watch any of those episodes of Covert Affairs or Justified or whatever.

And you'll quickly be asked to provide your cable or satellite subscription information.

Hulu's not carrying those episodes.

You're paying them $7.99 and they're not even carrying any of those episodes.

They're a joke and much funnier than anything Deadbeat will ever offer.

Hulu Plus is not creating original content -- not anything worth watching.

And each summer, we're begged to note here -- begged by people with Hulu -- that they have new episodes of this or that show.

That's because their streaming numbers drop every summer since they have so little programming to offer.  (Last summer, Fox' limited edition 24 series greatly helped Hulu's numbers.)  But last fall and especially this spring found Hulu tanking with numbers they generally only see in July and August.

These days, Netflix has much to celebrate and there's a story in that.  Hulu Plus -- which charges the exact same fee Netflix does -- has nothing to celebrate and there's a far bigger story in that.

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