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Tag: Hulu Plus

No More Hulu Plus

Pop Quiz: Do you know the difference between Hulu and Hulu Plus?  Well, it really doesn’t matter any more…

Pop Quiz: Do you know the difference between Hulu and Hulu Plus? Well, it really doesn’t matter any more…

I got an email last week from the folks at Hulu stating that they’ve killed off Hulu Plus. What?  There’s no more paid Hulu service??

No, it’s still there. It’s just called Hulu.
Huh?

So what’s the difference between ‘Hulu’ and “Hulu” (formerly Hulu Plus)?

The email assured me my $7.99 monthly subscription hasn’t changed.
(Of course, Hulu still wants my money.)

Okay…
So what’s going on?

According to TechCrunch, Hulu will still maintain its free and paid tier, but it’s trimming the name ‘Plus’ to eliminate consumer confusion.

The service formally known as ‘Plus’ will continue to stream on mobile devices and provide access to more episodes from individual series.

Hello, Hulu?
A couple years back, I signed up for Hulu Plus with some trepidation. And I was immediately non-plussed when I couldn’t access the entire final season of Fringe.
(Which was the reason I joined up in the first place)

The advantages of the paid plan became even murkier for me as time went on….

So the ‘Plus’ brand change became a reminder to me that maybe I didn’t really need to be paying for Hulu month after month anymore.

Time for a little review of how often I was really using it…
But I already knew the truth… not very much.

Sipping Hulu is Not Encouraged
In theory, Hulu is great.
If you ever miss last week’s episode of your favorite show, Hulu is always there as your safety net.

Once upon a time, maybe that’s all I needed.

Today, let’s just say my busy life as a parent has mostly kept me out of the TV watching game when it comes to committing to any ongoing series.

That said, what Hulu Plus could have done for me is let me start at the beginning of any series and go through it at my own pace.

But the big-time shows apparently don’t often have the patience for media ‘sippers’ like me.

If you’re not generally keeping up with the hungry crowd of weekly watchers, you’re going to get left behind…

The Facade of All-Access
Just to be sure, I did a quick review of what shows I would begin watching on Hulu if I discovered two to three available hours a day…
And here my episode-access report:

  • Gotham
    5 shows from the middle of season 1
  • The Blacklist
    Last 5 episodes from last season
    (FYI- Netflix does better!)
  • Castle
    All of season 7
    (That’s fine if I hadn’t stopped watching after season 2.)
  • Shark Tank
    Last 5 episodes of season 6
  • Marvel’s Agents of Shield
    Last 5 shows of season 2
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter
    Episodes 4-8

As you can see, it’s kind of difficult just to jump into any of these…
Clearly, there are plenty of series that you don’t get full access to… even with a ‘Plus’ subscription!

Less Hulu
If the goal is to simplify Hulu’s main identity as a paid service through and through… I get it. That’s fine.

I know there are probably still more hours of TV programming available on Hulu (Plus) today than days left in anyone’s lifetime who’s reading this.

But I’m simply not taking advantage of Hulu right now…
(That’s partly my fault… and definitely Hulu’s.)

This name change simply made me face the fact that there’s really no plus for me either.

Time to downgrade.
(for now)

Click.

Nonplussed with Hulu Plus

Don’t ask why Fox only gives you five streaming episodes of “Fringe” to watch on Hulu Plus. Just consider it another unexplained Fringe event.

Don’t ask why Fox only gives you five streaming episodes of “Fringe” to watch on Hulu Plus. Just consider it another unexplained Fringe event.

New Year’s Resolution #479:
(been a busy week)
Catch up on my favorite television shows I’ve neglected watching.

Always on the Fringe of “Fringe”
One series I’ve stuck with over the past four years is “Fringe.”
Created by J.J. Abrams who brought us “Lost,” this series, inspired by
“The X Files,” has also taken its time unveiling its complex truths.

It’s really been a roller coaster ride since last season.
I barely understood the confusing ‘altered universe’ as opposed to the cool ‘alternate universe.’ (the slickest part of the show to date)
Still, I’ve wanted to hang in through this fifth and already jarring final season.

Don’t Blink
Once upon a time, I was exceptionally diligent in time shifting my broadcast/cable viewing through my trusty DVR.
But I’ve been running out of memory of late.
(as has my DVR)
Plus, I haven’t been consuming enough episodes to relieve my DVR’s bulging hard drive.
(Life is busy!)

And as with “Fringe,” as soon as you miss an episode or two of your favorite TV show these days, you’re stuck.
Many series evolve a common storyline across multiple episodes.
So it’s difficult to jump back in even if you’ve been briefly absent.

Spend a Doubloon on iTunes
One catch-up solution is to simply suck it up and pay for the missed episodes on iTunes.
Two or three bucks per episode (SD or HD) isn’t a terrible loss, but shelling out anything really annoys me.
I know I could have had it for free, if I were only a bit more organized with my media management.

Hulu to the Rescue
Another option is to take advantage of the fact that many series stream some of their episodes for free on the networks’ websites or on Hulu.

Hulu has been around since 2008.
It’s a joint venture between NBCUniversal, Fox, and Disney/ABC with free programming from over 410 content companies.

I’ve found Hulu a great convenience for my emergency catch-up viewing as well as quickly checking out popular clips from shows like
“Saturday Night Live.”

Last year, I took advantage of this ad-supported streaming lifeline to keep up with “Fringe.”

Unfortunately, this season, I quickly fell too far behind the five-episode streaming limit imposed by Fox. So Hulu wasn’t able to help.

And then I had an epiphany.
What about Hulu Plus?

All the Fuss with Hulu Plus
Free is always nice, but the paid subscription model of Hulu Plus gives you ‘more.’
And that’s what I needed! (I thought.)

Hulu Plus launched in 2010 and hosts over three million subscribers, more than doubling its membership over the past year.
(It’s currently available only in the U.S. and Japan.)

There are five reasons to go with Hulu Plus:

  • The big hook with Hulu Plus is “generally,” you can watch the entire current season of a TV series.
    (plus multiple episode or full back-season content from many TV shows)
  • With Hulu Plus, you can now stream content beyond your computer to devices like Apple TV and Roku.
    So this returns your viewing experience to the big screen in your living room.
  • Hulu Plus also works with mobile devices like your iPad.
    And you can also use the same subscription for your multiple devices.
    (but only one simultaneous stream at a time, please)
  • Hulu Plus streams in HD, when available.
    (Hulu only gives you SD.)
  • And there are movies too.
    That said, there’s a clear consensus out there you shouldn’t go to Hulu Plus for its flicks.
    Stick with Netflix for that.

The enhanced Hulu Plus costs $7.99/month. (There are still ads.)
On the upside, they give you the first week for free.
(Happy New Year!)

Stormy Waters Ahead
All these ‘enhancements’ and incentives to go Plus is clearly a marketing power play, but I suppose everyone’s got to make a buck.

The more successful Hulu Plus becomes, the more disruptive it will be to the traditional broadcast/cable revenue model.
And that could spell future trouble for Hulu.
(Fast and Slate have been discussing that side of the story recently…)

And the newest indicator that Hulu’s non-traditional approach has really irritated its media giant owners is the big news from January 4th that both
Hulu CEO Jason Kilar and CTO Rich Tom are resigning.

That’s quite a shake up!

Netflix Streaming – The Sacrificial Lamb
So I really needed to resolve my micro-conundrum sometime before Fringe signs off!
But should I be buying into yet another scheme to pay for free TV?

And then I thought about Netflix Streaming and how difficult it’s been recently to find a good movie for both my wife and me to watch together.
And coincidentally, that’s also $7.99/month.

Time for a swap? Why not?!
(I’ll still keep my Netflix DVD plan.)

Click.
Hello Hulu Plus!
And just like that, I had my first month for free.
(I half expected Alec Baldwin to swing by and congratulate me.)

My Digital Quest Became a Fringe Event
After signing up, I immediately went to the “Fringe” page on Hulu Plus to begin my catch-up journey through season 5.
Suddenly, time slowed to a halt as my eyes struggled to look beyond the five listed episodes. My eyes were frozen!

Was there an alien force preventing me from viewing my prize?

No, there simply weren’t any more episodes on the page.
Only the same five episodes already available for free on Hulu.

“KHAAAAANNN!!!!!”

What’s the point of paying for Hulu Plus to have access to the complete current season of a series if it was never there to begin with?
(Maybe the Observers from “Fringe” have secretly taken over Hulu.)

Generally…
Remember when I mentioned earlier that Hulu Plus is supposed to give you the entire current season of a show to date?

I included that pesky little word- ‘generally.’
Not ‘always.’

Hulu’s website says-
“For most major network series available on our service, Hulu Plus offers every episode of the current season.”

‘Most’ is also not the same as ‘always.’

So like my mother always told me, you should always read the fine print.
Buyer beware.

All right. So I had a little bad luck on my first try.
There are hundreds of other series to choose from.

“Revolution” is Mostly Dark
I’ve also wanted to start watching NBC’s “Revolution,” which has generated some great buzz this season.
So I quickly navigated to that page.
Nope.
All the lights weren’t on there either.
Yep…
Just the last five episodes.

Uh huh.

Can’t Get to “Sesame Street”
My wife and I have been thinking it’s time to introduce our boy to the wonders of “Sesame Street.”
Perfect.
Click.
Full episodes? Hold on there, cowboy.
You can watch some short clips, but that’s it.

Nice.

Three Strikes?
But it’s not all bad news for Hulu Plus.

  • CBS Joins the Party
    CBS has been a notable holdout since Hulu launched, but beginning this month, that logjam has finally been broken with a freshly inked deal.
    Look to see more CBS programming on Hulu Plus over the next few months.
    And it should be noted that all this new goodness is apparently not coming to the free Hulu service.
    (surprised?)
  • Fox Throws Plus a Bone
    Fox has its own set of arbitrary rules that hold back new episodes on Hulu for eight days. (unless you’re a DISH, Verizon, or Cable One subscriber)
    Hulu Plus unlocks it for you the day after air!

Digital Smorgasbord
Hulu Plus has a lot going for it, but it’s limited by some really frustrating, quirky rules.

There’s no way to know for sure what you’re able to watch until you actually look for it.
(Even all of the content on Hulu is not always available on Hulu Plus because of licensing limitations.)

The Truth for $5.98
So after a frustrating trip down yet another digital rabbit hole, I’m back where I started.

Well, the truth has always been out there.
It just costs $5.98 and a slap to my pride.

Yep… It’s iTunes.
I just have to buy the freaking two episodes of “Fringe” on iTunes, and I’ll immediately be back within the cozy five-episode Hulu Plus bubble!

Click. Click.
Done.
(sigh)

Can We Fix it?  Yes We Can!
So that’s the end to my disappointing and brief Hulu Plus journey.
Well, not exactly.

I’ve got the free month.
Why not use it!?
So I’ve been taking Hulu Plus out for a test drive.

It’s only been a few days, but there are already some promising developments:

The Dysfunction of “Modern Family” Works Great
Last week, my wife and I happily watched a couple of episodes of “Modern Family.”
This series isn’t available on Netflix Streaming, and I gave up on the Netflix DVD we received, because holding onto half a season’s worth of episodes backed up the flow of other Netflix DVDs standing by to ship.

“Bob the Builder” Fixed It
Big Bird will have to wait, but “Bob The Builder” has quickly become a huge hit with my son.
I fired up this toddler-friendly series onto my Apple MacBook Pro laptop, and my boy now happily sits with me at my desk watching Bob, Wendy, Rolley, Dizzy, Scoop, Lofty, and Muck, while I’m putting the finishing touches onto my blog’s next post on my iMac.

Suddenly, I’ve found myself very close to Digital Zen.
How unexpected.

Stay Tuned
So the jury is still out.
If Hulu Plus continues to help me and my family find and watch our ever-growing backlog of TV episodes, maybe there’s room for a little more Plus in our digital lives.

Just like watching “Fringe,” it’s been confusing and not without frustration.
But it has also offered up some rewards.

I’ll continue to “observe.”

I Am a Road Warrior

My essential gear stands ready for the morning commute. All systems are go!

I can see the technology police in my rear view mirror.
They’re never far behind.

Take heed of this story, which reminds me of man’s failed journey
back to the moon.
Dramatic advances in technology have not made returning there any easier.
Let me explain…

Before Thunderdome
I am a road warrior.
Or to be more precise, a Metro-North train commuter.

Let’s just say once upon a time I was cast out of paradise. And I now have a daily eighty minute work-commute to New York City.

Not that I’m complaining. When I board the packed train every morning, I walk past commuters with even longer commutes. But I can’t avoid the reality that my nights are now shorter because of my daily trek.

As a result, my 42” Plasma TV is mostly dark on weeknights.
My pride and joy from three years ago no longer serves up the majority of my media consumption.

What’s a healthy, red-blooded American TV viewer to do?

The silver lining to a long commute is converting the two hours of uninterrupted train void into something useful. Some people read. Others sleep.  I like to catch up on the TV I’m no longer watching at home.

How does that work, exactly, as I nimbly sit between two other commuters, (in the dreaded center seat) traveling seventy miles an hour on track three?

Maybe there’s an app for that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the ‘Preapplenary’ Dinosaur Era, without the conveniences of smartphone tech, I had it all figured it all out. Back then, I was moving my TV recordings like magic for mobile consumption onto my little DVD player.

My favorite TV shows were captured by my Panasonic DVR/DVD recorder. The shows were recorded first to its hard drive, and then transferred via a built-in, high-speed process to re-recordable DVDs (how environmentally friendly of me). Within fifteen minutes or so, I could prep six hours of mobile TV to take with me for the week on the train. No computer required.

I took my nimble Panasonic 7” DVD player that fit comfortably in my soft briefcase, and when I set myself up in my train seat complete with Bose noise cancelling headsets, people looked at me like I had invented cold fusion.

I was a mobile tech god, and feeling very much invincible.

Wrath of the Titans
Technology is supposed to make your life easier. And here I was, happily keeping up with all my favorite shows. What could be better?

Technology is always evolving.
And sometimes that can be a problem, when everything is already perfect.
Especially when there’s business profit on the line.

One rainy day a couple years ago, it was clear I had angered the technology gods, and a whole bunch of their lawyers.

First, Panasonic and other manufacturers of TV recorders with hard drives suddenly stopped making them.
“No more demand for the product,” they said.
I say, “All that free media copying. Very bad. You should be buying it. “

DVD recorders (sans DVR) were allowed to keep living, but I found their usefulness limited. You’re forced to constantly pay attention to how much space is left on a DVD and then swap it out every six hours. Or else your last-episode-of-the-season recording doesn’t happen. It’s back to the nightmare days of programming your old VCR. What a pain!

The killer blow came via my friendly cable company.
Cablevision, like all patriotic American companies, has a right to protect its product from being stolen. So they, like other cable companies, had been scrambling many of their channels to prevent people from illegally sampling all the programming goodness without renting a cable box. I have no problem with that.

The spigot began closing, and one day, my Panasonic DVR/DVD recorder just saw blue. Blue on every channel. Nothing but blue.

Yeah, I was blue. And a whole lot of other colors.
It wasn’t like I was trying to steal anything. I was paying Cablevision a pretty penny every month. But I was breaking the law.

You may ask, “Why not just have my recorder drink from the free digital broadcast stream in the sky?”
I’ve got bad reception at home. D’oh!

Wait a minute! I also had a built in DVR in my cable box! Couldn’t I still legally transfer my shows to my blue brick? Sure. But there’s a catch-
It’s real time transfer. No more high speed. That old technology is now illegal.

That slowed down the DVD transfer from fifteen minutes to six hours!
What commuter has time for that?

So after my glorious and free media age of agility, all my recorded media became imprisoned safely and legally back at home in my cable box.

What’s a road warrior to do?

I hate admitting this, but my solution was to simply lick my wounds and go cold turkey on my TV shows. Instead, I decided to focus on all the movies I was missing at the local multiplex. (As a new parent, I hear this is typical.)
As I was already a Netflix subscriber, I loaded up my movie cue and began packing the red envelope as a part of my standard travel kit.

Digital Xanadu
Now don’t get me wrong. Technology hasn’t abandoned the mobile viewer. Not one bit. There are plenty of options available today to facilitate mobile media viewing.

The problem is each solution has an added cost associated with it.
And I’d prefer not to pay for my TV shows a second time just to watch them outside the immediate vicinity of my home entertainment center.
I feel once is plenty, thank you very much.

All this said, here are some of your choices:

iTunes
This is what you’re supposed to do. It’s easy. It works. It’s fast. Perfect.
Of course, you’re paying $1.99 or $2.99 (HD) a pop for an episode of your favorite TV series. (Apple used to rent out episodes, but
they killed that option last summer.)
Yes, I’ve bought TV episodes via iTunes and quickly transferred the content to my iPhone, but I don’t fancy the idea of owning lots of memory-heavy episodes I only intend to watch once.

DVD Box Sets
You can always buy DVD box sets of your favorite TV series. But waiting months later to watch the most recent season brings new meaning to the concept of patience. Plus water cooler chat will ruin most of the good stuff before you get to it.

TiVo
I really want to buy a TiVo box.
(The prices have really come down, starting at $150, plus the $15 monthly service plan.) But I don’t own one precisely because all of its content can’t be easily transferred for portable viewing. Once upon a time, TiVo made their boxes with a DVD recorder built in. No more. Remember, that’s illegal.

Now, they’ve got something ‘better.’
It’s the one-two-three TivoToGo service, which allows you to transfer your TV recordings from a network-connected TiVo to your computer via TiVo Desktop Software. Then you compress the files for your smartphone via a program called Toast. Finally, you upload the file to your portable device.

“Yoi, Ishta Nem!”
(My mother would utter this phrase learned from her Hungarian relatives for times of complete frustration.)

So TiVo has taken my two-minute solution and created a several hour process. Ludicrous!

EyeTV HD
This is a little $200 DVR that bridges your cable box to your Mac, where you can watch and convert programming to iTunes. This seems relatively straight forward, but I’m still not too psyched to be using my computer as a prep station to route my TV shows to my iPhone. That’s still more work than I want to put in.
Pass.

YouTube
Yes, I know it’s built into my iPhone, and yes I’ve successfully watched its short form programming while on the train. But I never considered the 3G stream would hold up for 30 or 60 minutes. That said…

HBO GO
I tried a new service this week that a reader let me know had finally come to Cablevision subscribers- HBO GO.
All that HBO programming I never have time to watch. On demand. On my iPhone. Would full episodes really work over 3G? On a moving train, passing through black holes of cell phone coverage.

It did!

Now, it wasn’t perfect, and the picture did stall occasionally, requiring me to reload. But I am still very impressed.

Wow. This feels like a game changer. And it doesn’t cost any more!
(You have to already be an HBO subscriber.)

Slingbox
Now that I’ve realized 3G streaming while commuting actually works (mostly), I have a renewed interest in a box that’s been around for a few years called Slingbox.
This $180 device connects to your cable box or DVD recorder and then to your home network, creating a video stream to the web. Like a virtual universal remote, it can control your recorded programming (or live TV) for display on your mobile device via a download called SlingPlayer Mobile. ($30) There’s also a HD version of the box, but I’m not sure I’d want/need HD with 3G.

It seems almost too good to be true. And the product isn’t something I hear about a lot. Nor are retailers like Best Buy pushing it. So this device clearly hasn’t gone mainstream yet. (no pun intended)
But it’s gotten decent reviews. Maybe… just maybe, this could be my magic bullet.
I may just have to try this out one day soon.
Stay tuned…

The Dream Stream Won’t be Forever Free
It’s still sinking in. So now I don’t have to take my shows with me? They’re always out there waiting for me?  There’s even a Hulu Plus app?!
(yes, subscription required)

I know my newly realized mobile media dream solution has one fatal flaw. And I’ll soon be on the wrong side of the law again. I’ll be sucking too much bandwidth out of my all-you-can-eat data plan from AT&T Wireless. Their newer data plans already have caps, after which hefty charges are assigned to your monthly bill (ticket).

I know it’s just a matter of time before it suddenly becomes a technology crime to stream like this for free. My iPhone’s portal is gonna get locked down, and they’re throwin’ away the key. No doubt about it.

Until then, I’ve decided to make the most of it. I should commute like there’s no tomorrow! Maybe even sport a new iPad with Retina Display and 4G LTE.

Riding the speeding train with my full cup.
Drunk with the satisfaction that for now, technology has once again made my life just a little bit better.

Drink. Drink, like there’s no tomorrow!

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