It is no secret that I am a big fan of BBC/National Geographic’s reality TV show, Life Below Zero. It is now in its twentieth season. As someone who didn’t have a cable television account, I used to buy the season from Apple’s iTunes store. I paid for the first fourteen seasons. I didn’t mind because it is a guilty pleasure and allows me to get my “Alaska fix.”
However, things have become harder since it is no longer feasible to buy the “season passes” or watch the most recent episodes. You can buy one season at a time, and even then, you can’t watch the 19th or the 20th season. Frustrated, I decided to sign-up for Disney+ with Hulu (without Ads) and ESPN+. I canceled my ESPN+ account and signed up for the whole enchilada. Given that one of the perks of my American Express credit card is a $ 20-a-month credit for digital streaming, it felt like a win-win proposition.
Let’s say that signing up was the easiest part — it was so challenging to get everything to work seamlessly. Disney Plus had a pretty clean sign-up flow, and so did ESPN. On the other hand, the Hulu sign-up was a mess and needed a different sign-up flow. And after some hits-and-misses, I was able to sign in to the Hulu service.
I was super excited to catch up on Life Below Zero (Seasons 19 and 20.) It was a rainy, dreary weekend in San Francisco, so this was a great way to spend quality time at home. I was in for major disappointment — Hulu apparently won’t allow me to watch the shows because I don’t have the right “TV rights.” In other words, since I am not an idiot who pays cable companies’ monthly fees, I can’t watch the only show I want to watch on Hulu.
The whole experience had left me so frustrated that I couldn’t help but think of that time in 2007 when I called Hulu a ClownCo. My skepticism came from the fact that the company had many masters, which in turn, limited their opportunities and potential.
The subsequent rise of Netflix, which banked on simplicity, ease of use, and a streaming-first experience, only proved my original skepticism about Hulu, which hasn’t be able to find its place under the sun. At present, Hulu, is owned by Disney and Comcast, which owns a third of the company. Its future is up in the air, much like it has been through much of its existence.
This my weekend misadventure only reinforced the problems with Hulu and, by extension, all other streaming services that still are knee-deep in shit called cable. They are so addicted to cable revenues that they don’t create a great user experience.
They need the handouts from the cable companies. Paul Kedrosky shared a chart today that showed that every media company but Netflix posted higher losses in the first nine months of 2022 compared to 2021. Disney lost $3.42 billion vs. $1.21 billion in 2021. The losses for the entire 2022 would be even higher.
As for me, since I couldn’t watch Life Below Zero, I decided to cancel the whole shebang. I don’t much care for what Disney has to offer — I am not into Star Wars or whatever else they are peddling. I will sign-up for ESPN when the Indian Premier League kicks off and sign off when it is over. As for Hulu, if I can’t see the one show, I want to see, then what’s the point of subscribing?
Stepping back and looking at the current state of streaming, it feels like we have retreated to the past. Instead of making things simpler and easier for consumers, media giants are making this complicated because they can’t give up on the past and don’t know how to embrace the future.
Netflix is keeping things simple, and so does Prime Video. Apple’s approach of less is more works at $ 5 a month. These companies serve only one master — themselves. I am back to using Prime Video (part of my Amazon Prime subscription) and ad-free YouTube Premium. Whenever Netflix has a decent show or two, I sign-up for a month and cancel my subscription once I have watched the series. Instead of Life Below Zero, I binged on British Bakeoff and Chef’s Table (Pizza). They were worth the money. As for Disney Plus, it was Disney Minus, and I wouldn’t even spend my freebie Amex dollars on them.
December 5, 2022. San Francisco