After viewing the premiere episode of Netflix’s latest original series, the uninspired Hemlock
Grove, I’m find myself hoping that the much-anticipated upcoming season of Arrested Development will boost the streaming internet subscriptions service’s weak TV offerings. The largest hole in their library is obviously the lack of premium cable shows, particularly HBO. In addition, they don’t offer episodes from the current season of hit shows such as The Following, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation like their major competitors. Amazon Instant Video offers up-to-date programming either by episode, which can range from $1.99 to $2.99 per episode, or you can purchase a season pass. This is basically the same as purchasing a DVD set minus the added clutter at home.
Hulu, only available on computer, is free. A Hulu Plus subscription costs $7.99 per month and offers a mix of current and past shows and seasons as well as movies just like Hulu but can be seen in high definition and content can be viewed on mobile devices
Hulu Plus doesn’t keep entire seasons of all its shows. For example, a viewer can currently watch every episode (so far) of New Girl’s sophomore season but not season one and only the last five episodes of The Vampire Diaries. In addition, Hulu Plus still lacks some quality shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Survivor, The Amazing Race-they have a few previous seasons-and Justified. A big negative for Hulu Plus is that viewers have to deal with commercials just like in prime time. Neither Hulu Plus nor Netflix carry any Bravo shows. So all this basically means is that no one option is likely to be perfect.
So where do channels like HBO and Showtime fit into all of this? In 2010, HBO started offering its subscribers HBOGO which gives them the option to view old and new shows, specials and movies online and via mobile devices. Of course, HBO subscriptions vary depending on the cable provider but can range anywhere from $15-$20 dollars per month in addition to the $75+ many people pay for satellite or cable. What about people who either don’t have or refuse to pay exorbitant fees to watch True Blood? Well, they can wait two years for a season to be released on DVD or pay for it on Amazon where it will run them upwards of at least $25 for a season pass. In addition, not everyone wants to make a lifelong commitment by purchasing their favorite TV shows.
More and more TV viewers, fed up with paying for channels they never watch or simply looking for a way to trim household expenses are choosing to “cut the cord.” According to a group called The Convergence Consulting Group, between the years of 2008-2011 over 250 million customers ended their pay TV subscriptions and replaced them with online streaming services. This is good news for Netflix and Hulu Plus but not HBO, Showtime and the like.
Some HBO subscribers began clamoring for the cable company to offer HBOGO as a standalone service. An article on TechCrunch http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/05/hbo-go-without-hbo/ explains why a standalone version of HBOGO is not necessarily financially feasible for the cable giant.
Before going cold turkey when it comes to cable and satellite, people should know what they are getting into. In summer 2011, after renegotiating its contract with Netflix, Showtime Networks pulled Dexter from Netflix’s streaming options. Yes, viewers can see Weeds, The Tudors and United States of Tara, but all current shows, such as Homeland, are exclusive to Showtime’s streaming service.
HBOGO makes all of its shows both past and present available for viewing. I’m confident that if The Sopranos started airing on Netflix for the low, low price of $7.99, their subscribers would be pissed. Still, there has to come a point when HBO would be willing to throw a few scraps such as Sex and the City Netflix’s way. Sex has been syndicated for years, so is its absence on Netflix would seem to be about money. This may be the price a Netflix subscriber pays for watching commercial-free television.
Since Netflix doesn’t seem either able or interested in offering current seasons of popular prime time and cable shows, the company that pretty much single-handedly put traditional video stores out of business, needs to find a hook or focus that their competitors lack. Original programming is one option as long as they can create consistent, quality product. Netflix’s first original show called Lilyhammer about a mobster seeking refuge in Norway didn’t exactly receive rave reviews. Its second attempt, the political drama House of Cards fared much better. In addition to Hemlock Grove, Netflix has ordered 13 episodes of Orange is the New Black a comedy/drama based on Piper Kerman’s memoir recounting the 15 months she spent at a federal correction institution. The fact that the show was created by Jenji Kohan, who also created and wrote Weeds, seems promising. We know she can develop strong, funny and flawed female protagonists. Netflix is also dipping its metaphorical toe into the waters of animation with Turbo: F.A.S.T. (Fast Action Stunt Team). Now Netflix just needs to throw in a possible reality show-look what the genre did for Bravo-and maybe even a film or two.
Hulu/Hulu Plus also has a handful of original programs. The Morning After is comparable to E!News with an emphasis on TV highlights. A Day in the Life is a documentary series, Battleground is a mockumentary dramedy that follows the lives of campaign staffers as they work to get their candidate elected, and Spoilers is a weekly “anti-movie review show” hosted by Kevin Smith. In addition, Hulu has four new shows in the works which would put Netflix a few original offerings behind.
Resurrecting favorites such as Arrested Development or saving shows from the chopping block like TBS did with ABC’s throwaway Cougar Town is another way Netflix could punch up its lackluster TV streaming options. Acquiring the comedy Happy Endings would be a perfect example, but if the clever yet struggling sitcom does get drop kicked by ABC, apparently USA might be standing by to cushion the show’s fall according to Deadline.
Thanks to a recent deal with Time Warner, Netflix managed to score eight new shows, some good, some not so good. Probably the best of the bunch are Revolution, one of, if not, the most popular shows of the 2012-2013 season and The West Wing. Less impressive is 666 Park Avenue which was cancelled in November 2012. I guess the deal is if you want desert, you have to eat your dinner first.
Even when it comes to syndicated shows, Netflix lacks a barrage of common sense acquisitions. Netflix offers reruns of popular shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Office, all of which can be seen on any number of local affiliates, not to mention major networks like TBS. But where are the real darlings of syndication like Friends or Seinfeld? Netflix needs to do some serious revamping to their anemic TV options. There are so many great series from the 60’s-90’s that should be available. It was easier to get titles on the cheap before streaming became so popular. Now, when it comes time to renew licensing agreements with studios or networks, there has been a considerable mark up.
But buyers beware; Netflix may have a ton of your favorite shows available now, but they could be gone in a matter of months. If you want some intel on both new release and expiration dates, check out instantwatcher.com.
Kudos to Netflix for offering one-season wonders like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and My So-Called Life, but why waste money on mediocre shows that were cancelled like Awake, The Riches, Kidnapped, Cashmere Mafia (7 episodes) and Three Rivers. Not to mention, the cavalcade of shows that fail to spark one iota of either recognition or interest; to this viewer anyway.
Netflix also has a few technical glitches it needs to work out. On more than one occasion, I have found multiple episodes missing from its streaming TV series’ seasons. I spoke to a customer service representative, and he suggested using my computer to put the show in the instant queue and that should resolve the issue—it didn’t. According to the representative, there was no legal reason, i.e., copyright issue for any incomplete seasons. His reassurances do not change the fact that I can’t catch up on Grey’s Anatomy.
As it stands, I wouldn’t rely solely on Netflix for television entertainment. I will stick with the TV pioneer in the hopes that it will develop a stronger, more competitive presence given enough time and creative thinking.