Why Does Hulu Plus Show Commercials?

I used regular Hulu.com off and on for over a year before subscribing to Hulu Plus.  I was used to the commercials and accepted them.  I don’t expect to get anything for free.  However, when I started paying $7.99 a month I assumed the commercials would disappear.  That didn’t happen.  Why?  Here’s what they wrote at the Hulu site:

“We include advertisements in Hulu Plus in order to reduce the monthly subscription price of the service. Premium content — especially from the current TV season — is not only expensive to make and license, but we also want to compensate our content partners fairly for the valuable entertainment they provide.”

hulu-plus

I imagined that Hulu Plus would be like a premium cable channel and be commercial free.  That’s turned out to be a false assumption on my part.  But is my assumption that ads are natural for free content, but paid content should be ad free not valid?  I’m watching the same shows, so why am I paying $7.99 a month?  What am I getting that makes the plus in Hulu Plus?

To get the free Hulu I have to watch it through a computer.  Until my HTPC died, I had a computer to watch web content on my big screen TV.  I also used this computer to record shows.  It was like a home built DVR.  Until I replace it, I’ll have to reply on a Roku box to see web content on TV, but the Roku doesn’t offer free Hulu, just Hulu Plus.  So essentially I’m paying $7.99 to stream through the Roku.

I had assumed and hoped when I sprang for Hulu Plus the commercials would go away.  Boy was I wrong.  Now that I’m using Hulu more, the commercials stand out.  They are getting annoying, especially since they seem to show the same ones over and over.

I love streaming Netflix because a hour TV show is only about 42 minutes.  On Hulu Plus they aren’t back to a full hour, but I’m losing sleep because I’m staying up later every night because of the commercials.  Commercials that I hate to watch.

Hulu Plus is a marginal service for me.  I gave up cable years ago.  I love watching TV shows on DVD and Netflix streaming, but if I want to watch anything current I have to watch it live over broadcast TV, pay Amazon $1.99-2.99 an episode, or get it from Hulu Plus.  So my $7.99 pays for a five week window to watch current shows.  If I miss Revolution on Monday nights at 9pm, I can still watch it for five weeks.  I can do it for free on the computer and pay for my supper by watching commercials.

Or I can pay $7.99 a month, AND WATCH COMMERCIALS, if I want to use my Roku box connected to my TV.  I won’t shout that’s unfair, because that’s how Hulu plays the game.  I’ve just got decide if I want to pay twice for the convenience.

It is true Hulu Plus has more shows, and for some shows, complete runs instead of the most most recent five episodes.

I’ve read that Hulu Plus streams at 720p instead of 480p, and that is indeed worth some money.

This still doesn’t answer why Hulu Plus, a premium service, has commercials.  That bugs me.

I’ll use it for a month or two, and see if I get addicted to it, but I tend to think I’m going to cancel my subscription.  I really hate paying for commercials.

Hulu Plus should be free if we have to watch commercials.  It’s only delayed broadcast TV, and unlike DVR TV shows, we can’t skip over the commercials.

JWH – 10/9/12

Will Internet TV Make Cable and Satellite TV Extinct?

There are two kinds of TV, live and recorded.  Internet TV sites like Hulu have already proven how well they can handle recorded TV shows.  Internet TV even does away with the need for a digital video recorder (DVR).  Think of a show, find it, watch it.  Internet TV like Hulu is even better than broadcast, cable or satellite for sponsors because viewers are required to watch the commercials.  And as long as they have such limited commercials as they do now, I don’t mind watching them.  Otherwise I’ll pay for streaming services like Netflix to be commercial free.

Where Internet TV is weak is for live broadcasts, like for sports and 24/7 news.  The infrastructure of cable and satellite systems have far more bandwidth for handling live television.  That won’t always be so, because I’m sure some kind of broadcast Internet technology will emerge to solve that problem and people will be watching live TV on their iPhones, iPads, netbooks, notebooks, desktops, HTPCs and Internet TV sets.

Digital technology ate the music industry, and is about to eat the book, newspaper, magazine and television industries.  I gave up cable TV months ago and for recorded shows I’m in hog heaven by using the Internet TV, which includes streaming Netflix.  I also supplement by viewing diet with snail-mail Netflix discs, but I see where that habit could be phased out too.  The only reason to get a disc now is for the picture quality of Bluray.  Future bandwidth will wipe out that technology too.

Owning music CDs and video DVDs seem so pointless now.  I wonder how that’s going to impact the economy and effect the entertainment business.  It also makes me wonder about my efforts of building an easy to use HTPC.  I’m struggling to get perfect Bluray playback through my HTPC computer, wondering if I should spend $80 for better software, knowing full well in the not too distance future I’ll phase out Bluray too.  The HTPC has phased out the LG BD390 Bluray player I bought just last year, and an Internet TV set could phase out my HTPC.

biggerthanlife

Last night my friend Janis had us watch Bigger Than Life on Bluray because NPR had praised this old James Mason movie so highly.  The flick wasn’t very entertaining, but it was fascinating.  The Bluray presentation of this 1956 CinemaScope production was stunning in 1080p high definition, showing intricate shadows and vivid colors.  Internet TV and streaming Netflix can’t provide that kind of resolution right now, but I imagine it will before 2015.

Technology is moving so fast that we buy devices we want to throw away in a year or two.  Growing up my folks wanted appliances and TVs that would last 15 years.  I remember Ma Bell phones lasting over twenty years.  I’ve had my 52” inch high definition TV for only three years and I’m already lusting for a new set.  Will technology ever settle down again so we can buy something that will last a generation?  I think it might.  Of course it will be terrible for the economy, but I can imagine TV technology that would satisfy me and take the ants out of my pants to have something better.

My perfect TV will still be a 1080p HDTV like we have today.  I’m pretty sure we can go decades without changing the broadcast standards again.  It will have a digital tuner to handle over-the-air broadcasts (in case the net goes down) and an Ethernet jack and WiFi for Internet TV.  It will have two removable bays.  One for a computer brain that can be upgraded, and another for a SSD hard drive.  As Internet TV is perfected the need for a local DVR will be diminished.  That will also be true for an upgradable CPU.  There will be no cable or satellite TV.  Everything will come to us by TCP/IP.  Broadcast will remain for the poor and for when the Internet fails.  Cable and satellite TV will go the way of the record store.  I also assume all Internet access will be wireless, but it will take 5-10 years to phase out wires.  Now that doesn’t mean cable and satellite companies will go under.  I expect them to buy into the Internet TV revolution.  I do get my internet access from Comcast.

Most people will think I’m crazy by predicting the extinction of cable and satellite TV.  They can’t picture living without all that choice.  That’s because of the channel switching mindset.  We have always thought of what’s on TV by flipping through the channels, even though very little TV is live.  Most of TV is recorded, and we fake immediate diversity by offering 200 concurrent channels to watch.  Eventually the only channels to watch will be live, because other technology makes it easier to find recorded shows ourselves.

Live TV will go through a renaissance.  Cable and satellite TV systems are still the best technology for live TV, and they will hang on to their audiences for another ten or twenty years as Internet broadcast TV is perfected.  However, guerrilla TV is emerging on the net, and micro audiences are evolving.  For the big networks, how many Today like morning shows will we need for live TV?  How many channels to promote sports?  How many to 24/7 talking head news and reality shows do we need?  How many live PBS networks will we need?  Will audience gather around central networks or seek out specialized Internet broadcasters catering to their personal interests?

Ultimately, how much TV really needs to be live?  Even 24/7 news shows spend a lot of time repeating themselves.  Live TV is leisurely.   The hours of the Today show are filled with just minutes of quality content, most of the time is fluff and commercials.  And if an opera is filmed live for PBS does it really need to be seen live?  Survivor and Amazing Race would be tedious if live.

When the flipping the channels metaphor dies out, and library checkout metaphor gains popularity, TV viewing will change.  People love football, war and car chases live, but will even that change too?  If you were sitting with you iPad killing some time, will you think, “Hey let’s watch the game in Miami,” or will you want to play a game or watch something recorded?   I can easily imagine sites of “WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW!” start showing up, listing thousands of events going on around the world.  TCP/IP technology will work better to provide that kind of service than cable or satellite.

Until you play with Internet TV you won’t understand what I’m saying.  You’ve got to sleep with the pods or drink the Kool-Aid to buy in.  Start with streaming Netflix and Hulu.

And if people love cell phones, Facebook and Twitter to stay in constant contact won’t they love live TV from their friends.  Instead of watching the crew of the Today show have fun, why not video link all your friends and create your own morning show?  And the emergence of spy networks will also change viewing habits.  If every daycare and classroom had web cams, wouldn’t parents spend more time watching them?  Won’t all the web cams in the world grabbing eyeballs destroy the audiences of the 200 channels of national networks?

We can’t predict the future.  Growing up in the 1960s I never imagined anything like the Internet.  All I can predict is change and more of it.  But I’m also going to predict that once the Internet and digital upheaval is over, we might settle down to a slower pace of change.  Well, until artificial intelligence arrives or we make SETI contact with distant civilizations.

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JWH – 4/10/10

There’s No Such Thing As Free TV

In the early days of television it appeared the shows were free, just put up an antenna and watch your favorite programs for nothing.  But as we all know, we paid for our viewing by watching commercials.  Then came cable TV.  We paid a small fee to avoid the hassle of messing with antennas, but we still watched a lot of commercials.  However, this started the upward cost of watching television.  Cable providers slowly added more channels and raised their fees.  They even offered commercial free networks like HBO and Showtime, but at an even greater cost.  It’s not uncommon today to pay over $100 a month for cable or satellite access.  Then they charged even more for DVR boxes and services so we could skip over the commercials.

Now people are abandoning their cable/satellite services to save money and going retro by using antennas again, and getting over-the-air (OTA) HD television.  They supplement their viewing variety with Netflix, HTPCs and now DLNA compliant devices.  Getting TV from the Internet gives the illusion that we’ve finally found a way to get free TV.  Don’t count on it.  We still pay $25-50 a month for broadband Internet access, and we still watch a lot of commercials.  And if the movie and television industry has their way, they’ll find new ways to charge us for watching our favorite shows over the Internet.

Netflix, at $8.99 for 1 disc service and streaming video via a Roku box is probably the cheapest way to get the most TV watching bang for the buck.  Now Netflix is under attack by the Hollywood Studios.  As the Business Week article points out, studios don’t like the all-you-can-eat streaming pricing.  They want a cut of the action for each movie you watch, because they consider streaming equal to cable/satellite pay-per-view movies, that cost viewers $4 a pop.  And the studios, like Warner Brothers, want to slow the access to movies that Netflix rents because Netflix is cutting into sales of DVD/BD discs.  I know I don’t buy discs anymore, so I can understand this.  And if you haven’t noticed lately, a lot of streaming content on Netflix started showing expiration dates.  Bummer.

Generations of television viewers who grew up after the Baby Boomers don’t remember “free” TV.  Every house had an antenna sprouting from the roof and you didn’t have to pay a monthly bill to watch your shows.  Of course, we didn’t have the power to skip commercials, and we only had 3-4 channels in our nightly lineup.  We had NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies showing new to broadcast films, and each station had a library of old films they could show at odd hours of the day, usually in the middle of the night.  Life was simple then.  Of course, so were the shows.

Decades later, television shows and movies cost untold millions to make, far more than what broadcast commercials and movie tickets can finance.  Movie makers want to maximize their profits by selling their films several times, in a standard tiered released system where they get the maximum revenue at each stage:

  • Theatrical releases
  • DVD/BD sales
  • Pay-per-view
  • Premium cable (HBO, Showtime, etc)
  • Basic cable
  • Broadcast networks
  • [Netflix streaming?]

So where in the hierarchy do they release titles to Internet streaming?  And if DVD/BD sales are hurt by rentals, when do you release titles to Netflix?  Right now, I pay the most for movies because I watch a lot of flicks on the big screen.  I could probably save $500 a year by waiting for movies to come to Netflix.  This is one reason why I don’t care about getting cable TV anymore, or when movies get to Netflix.  But if you aren’t big on going to the movies, this does matter.

The trouble for movie makers is Netflix is so damn efficient and cheap.  Even without streaming, for $8.99 a month you can watch about a 100 movies a year, and with streaming, your selection is overwhelming.  Who needs to watch more?  And if you count that Netflix rents/streams TV shows and documentaries, that makes $8.99 a month the cheapest form of TV watching other than OTA viewing.  Sports is the main thing missing, and probably why more people don’t give up cable/satellite.

Now Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is catching on, allowing you to stream video content off the Internet directly to your TV, without using a computer.  Geeks have been hooking up their computers to their TV for years, but it’s not an elegant consumer oriented solution.  All the major TV manufacturers are starting to build DLNA technology directly into their TVs, meaning you won’t need a Roku box to stream Netflix and Amazon videos.  Each manufacturer can choose which streaming system to support, or in some cases, they can support PC servers like PlayOnTv that will talk to your TV directly, or via your Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360, so you can watch Hulu and other emerging Internet TV networks.

Essentially, online TV networks like Hulu.com, CastTV and TV.com are ways to get broadcast and cable network shows free off the Internet, or free if you ignore your ISP bill.  But when content providers realize that these services will undercut services higher up the economic viewing ladder, will they continue to offer their content for free?  Will there be more commercials, or even subscriptions required?

I installed PlayOnTV on our Wii and played around with Hulu.  The Wii remote made a decent TV remote and worked well with the Hulu menu system.  This bit of testing provided an epiphany for me.  Internet TV is like cable TV – too many channels and too much to see!  Since I’ve given up cable TV and lived for a few months with just ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and Netflix, I’ve learned to love simplicity.  I thought I wanted more documentaries which Internet TV might offer me, but it’s not worth the hassle of finding them. 

I like the higher quality of watching Blu-ray discs, or even DVD quality, over watching Internet TV quality.  Broadcast HD seems better than cable HD, and Blu-ray 1080p is even better yet.  I’ve gotten used to pristine picture quality, and for me at least, visual quality is better than viewing quantity.  I don’t mind waiting for BD discs to come in the mail.  I know my viewing habits aren’t typical.  My wife is a channel surfer and loves to see what’s on by flipping through hundreds of channels.  If you’re like her, then you’ll need to pay for cable/satellite, or spend the money for Internet TV options.

I pay $16.99/month to Netflix for 2 discs out at a time with Blu-ray.  That’s as cheap as I can get while getting the most TV watching for my dough.  If the movie studios force Netflix to charge more for streaming, I’ll live without streaming.  I’m a little annoyed that Blu-ray discs cost more to buy and rent than DVDs when they look physically identical, but the extra visual quality is worth it to me.  I don’t mind watching Big Love or Weeds months after their HBO and Showtime broadcasts.

TV isn’t free, but it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  How much you pay for TV depends on how impatient you are to see new shows and films.  As I get older I’ll probably stop going to the theater as much, because paying $10 to see a movie the first week it’s out won’t be as important.  I know a lot of old guys who stopped going to the movies altogether.  If you’re young, restless, twitchy and impatient, then you’ll probably love flipping through 300 cable channels and won’t mind paying $100 a month for that pleasure.

When I heard Warner Brothers wanted Netflix to wait a whole month before renting movies that had just gone on sale, I laughed.  At 58, a month is nothing.  To a teenager or twenty-something, waiting a month is probably unbearable.  I’m still finding new movies from the 1930s to watch, and I’ve seen thousands of them already.  I’d much prefer Netflix maintaining it’s low rates than getting movies sooner.  Let the young finance the movie and television industry – if you’re patient you can save your money for retirement.

JWH – 1/17/10