Sunday, June 23, 2013

Less Bang For The Buck: Hulu Plus Disappoints.

The Good: Affordable, Has many current shows
The Bad: No CBS, Last five episodes of many shows, Wonky search engine, Glitchy, One week trial period.
The Basics: Hulu Plus is an unfortunately erratic television and movie streaming service that is not worth utilizing.

Recently, my wife and I had cause to use our free one-week trial of Hulu Plus, an online streaming service, even though we already use and pay for Netflix. My reason for going ahead with the trial week was simple: I play Dragon City on Facebook and one of the offers was to subscribe to Hulu to get gems in the game and, frankly, I wanted them in order to pick up a dragon offered for a limited time. That’s not to say I was not happy to try Hulu Plus – I was eager to see Parenthood’s fourth season and my wife loves New Girl and through Hulu Plus we were able to watch the entire second season (reviewed here!) during our trial because it is on there (in our area, we do not get FOX over the airwaves) – but because there are so many programs on Netflix that I still have in the queue, I was in no particular hurry to cram in all the television (if you’re looking for movies, don’t bother with Hulu, the film selection is so anemic that the site itself does not invest much in promoting the fact that it even has movies on the platform) into a week.

Even so, a week was all I needed to determine that Hulu Plus is a vastly inferior online and via Playstation 3 (reviewed here!) streaming service. For the week we had Hulu Plus, we streamed shows on our television via our Playstation 3, on our laptop computers, and on my wife’s Nook.

What is good about Hulu Plus is exceptionally easy to define: Hulu Plus is very easy to install (it was already there on our Playstation 3 and my wife had the app version of the site installed on her Nook in minutes after she went looking for it. I also used to find shows on my laptop because it is just that much easier than trying to use the Playstation 3 virtual keyboard or my wife’s tablet to type and scroll through results. So, Hulu Plus is, to its credit, very easy to install.

Unfortunately, Hulu Plus is not as easy to use as it is to install. First, the platform is glitchier than any of the other we have tried. By that, I mean that more than any other streaming platform, we found with Hulu Plus that we would be watching a program and the episode would freeze up and require us to reboot the entire system (not just Hulu Plus). We easily diagnosed this as a platform issue because our other wireless devices did not lose the internet connection when the Hulu Plus connection failed mid-program and after eight months with Netflix, we have never been disconnected from the site without our entire wi-fi connection collapsing (it would be a pretty lousy thing if Hulu Plus did this on purpose during their trial period, but I have no evidence at all that that is what happened). As an added annoyance, when Hulu Plus fails, it does not reboot the episode one was watching to the precise moment it failed. Usually, the feed backtracks about a minute before getting to the point one actually left off.

The interface is generally easy to use, save the search engine. Hulu Plus has a terrible search engine that brings up results that are frequently not even tangentially related to the program one wishes to watch. If, for example, one searches for a program that Hulu Plus does not have, it will frequently flood the screen with episodes of any other program that featured stars from that show on any other program (like how searching for Spin City will bring up virtually every talk show that Michael J. Fox or Heather Locklear ever appeared on that Hulu Plus has in their database).

The only real benefit of Hulu Plus is that for many networks, it contains the most complete database of television series’ for a $19.99/month of all of the streaming services. Oddly, though, for a service that prides itself on having some of the newest programs online, it lacked an entire season of Psych or Weeds that Netflix actually had (and Netflix was still behind a season!). My point here is that even their selection is comparatively hit or miss. Where it excels is in providing current seasons from many broadcast and cable television shows, their database is exceptionally wonky. For example, Hulu Plus had the complete latest seasons of Modern Family and New Girl, but only the last five episodes of Happy Endings, Revolution, and Once Upon A Time.

What really irked me was that Hulu Plus has no current seasons of shows on CBS. I understand (though it annoyed me) that HBO and Showtime – premium cable channels both – would not participate in the streaming site Hulu but . . . CBS?! I was annoyed that I could not catch up on 2 Broke Girls during the free trial week, but when I learned that it was because CBS is trying its hand at its own streaming service, my reaction was (literally) “Come on!” Really, CBS?! You think more than any other broadcast network you have the oomph and programming to make your own streaming service? For sure, you have some wonderful programming for young, hip people, but the network is not known for young and hip. No, CBS is the network of shows that are watched by more people in the older demographics . . . the ones not so likely to be hip to streaming. CBS is not going to have an easy time of making their own streaming service and making it profitable and keeping their programs away from established platforms like Hulu Plus is not going to create a groundswell of demand for CBS’s programming to the extent that people will go out and spend actual money on a CBS-only streaming platform.

That leads me to the final problem with Hulu Plus: original programming. Original programming has become a competitive point between the various streaming platforms and it is one that will define who spends money on a streaming platform. Netflix, for example, created original programming with House Of Cards Season 1 (reviewed here!) and resurrecting Arrested Development for a fourth season (reviewed here!). What is Hulu Plus’s original programming? Damned if I know. Seriously, Hulu Plus, if your platform prides itself on giving people the ability to catch up or rewatch all of their favorite shows, you need to give consumers more than a one week free trial run if you ever expect your original programming to take off. Consumers come to your platform based on the strength of what they know they like and what friends have recommended to them (but they’ve been smart and thrifty enough not to just buy on DVD on spec). During the one week trial on Hulu Plus, I saw an ad for a program or two unique to Hulu Plus. I have absolutely no memory of them. And yet, I know Amazon Prime has Alpha House with John Goodman coming out. How do I know that? I had more than a week to look around Amazon Prime!

In short, Hulu Plus is my bet to be the first on-demand streaming platform to fail. It does not have smooth streaming, the search engine is annoyingly unspecific in the results it finds and its library is not consistent enough to allow fans to truly binge on their favorite programs or immerse themselves entirely in new series’. For all those reasons, regardless of what original programming Hulu Plus might create, as it exists now, Hulu Plus is the runt of the litter.

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© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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