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Testing the Streaming waters: why torrents still rule, Hulu sucks, Amazon Instant Video needs improvement and Netflix is getting old.

Let’s be honest, when Netflix announced that it would be changing pricing for the hybrid users like I am who like to stream their movies and use Blu-Ray player once in a great while, I was furious. I felt betrayed by the company who I’ve been with since almost the beginning. The 60% bump in a subscription plan was a ridiculous and ambitious slap in my face, which I didn’t take lightly. The arrogant letter from the CEO informed me that though Netflix understands the potential cancellations of the service from the existing customer base they are very cheery about meeting their goal of stuffing their pockets with a $1 billion in quarterly revenue. No special offers to current customers and no reduced package deals seemed cold like a boyfriend walking out on you on a Valentine’s Day.

Before breaking up with Netflix and telling it that “it’s not me, it’s you” I decided to give it a chance while I cheated on a side with other online streaming providers. During the past three months I’ve tried many and yet found a great all-encompassing solution to my problem – watch new blockbuster releases, find weird and rare indie flicks, conquer subtitled foreign cinema and enjoy TV shows that are dated later than 2010. Well, after a few experiments it’s clear that the only way to enjoy all of that and much more is to submerge into pirated waters of torrents.

I’ll start my breakdown of the services with my beloved/behated Netflix. The streaming selection still needs a major improvement. Most of the shows are extremely outdated and it’s impossible to get any fresh episodes of the shows currently running on the networks. Also, the interface could be improved for console devices as I noticed that finding a title in a queue is a pain and requires browsing through the entire selection unless one remembers the title name. Netflix still has an amazing collection of documentaries and foreign films but their selection of movies could be improved before they decide to up their pricing again. Now that Starz will be cutting ties with Netflix and developing their own app it looks like Netflix is going to loose access to newer titles in the streaming section.

Another service that seemed relevant and price competitive to Netflix’s streaming service is Hulu Plus. At a price of $7.99 a month and with an offering of many running shows Hulu Plus seemed like a good choice. Turns out that it contains major restrictions that are not ideal for me to continue paying the monthly fee. First of all, you still have commercials every 15 minutes or after you are fast forwarding or rewinding the video. They last about 45 seconds but still are annoying since you are paying to skip on the daily dose of marketing. Also, unless you like to watch television on your laptop, the selection of the videos is not complete. It looks like the quality of their streaming content isn’t up to par when it comes to remote devices and that is why they do not feature it for the console users. The final word – if you like watching recent TV shows but can skip on Showtime favorites like Dexter and Weeds get Hulu. However, don’t expect to find many movie titles or stream your entire favorite content to your Xbox.

Amazon has been my favorite online retailer for years and their superb services and attention to the existing customers made me look into Amazon’s Instant Video as well. Amazon is offering free movie streaming service for Prime membership customers who pay $79 a year plus they offer a-la-carte pricing for movie rentals ranging from $1 to $5. You get a 7-day access to the individual rental since the moment you start streaming it. The selection of the movies is much smaller than Netflix, offering 6,000 titles in comparison to Netflix’s streaming library of 20,000. The main drawback of Amazon is while providing access to many devices they are not rushing to offer anything for console users. So if you enjoy your multimedia on Playstation, Xbox or Wii, don’t even bother looking into Instant Video at this point.

A great solution to recent blockbusters is Vudu, a video streaming service offered by Walmart. Since it’s launch about 2 years ago they expanded their library to 20,000 titles that can be viewed on almost any device with Internet access. They claim they offer movies the same day they come out on DVD and their pricing per rental ranges between $1 to $6 per title. Vudu is not offering subscriptions, making it similar to Apple’s iTunes that charges $3.99 to rent freshly released movies and TV shows. While this might be a great alternative to Netflix’s DVD service for newer titles it still is very expensive to watch TV shows (those can run up to $20-30 depending on the amount of episodes).

As you can see there is no one universal solution to enjoy it all. While many companies are offering affordable plans, their solutions are not ideal. For years I’ve been getting my TV shows fix from the torrent sites and sticking my finger to the man but lately I’ve started getting those annoying letters from the Comcast with the timestamps of my torrent endeavors. I don’t really care for angry reminders of the SOPA activists that downloads are illegal. I believe that once the show aired on TV and was recorded by thousands of DVRs it might as well exist in cyber space on every virtual billboard. Like most people I don’t like to pay for things. I work around the system to get things for free as much as my intelligence allows me. But I still contribute to the development and the transition of the film industry due to my undeniable love for the medium by paying a nominal fee every month for streaming service. I realized that if I’m not helping at all I’m hurting the progress the video industry is undergoing and in the end I’m hurting myself. Those days back in 1998 when Netflix’s “shipping DVDs to your door” was a strange solution to the Blockbuster’s DVD renting empire seem not that long ago and yet here we are a decade later already looking into new faster better ways of delivering video content to our screens.

Hopefully, those folks taking my hard-earned money are listening.

2 Comments to Testing the Streaming waters: why torrents still rule, Hulu sucks, Amazon Instant Video needs improvement and Netflix is getting old.

  1. After reaching out to Hulu and inquiring about the advertisement during the paid subscription as well as my favorite shows on Premium Networks, I got a pretty gentle response from a customer service rep named Bernie:

    Bernie, Dec-17 03:57 pm (PST):
    Hi Rita,

    Thanks for getting in touch with us. A lot of folks end up asking about the ads in a service like Hulu Plus, so I’m happy to help explain.

    Hulu Plus’s focus is an expanded lineup of current-season TV, which means that much of the content isn’t yet available through other channels – like DVD, Blu-ray, syndication, and so on. Because these videos are so new and have such limited availability, they’re very expensive to license. The ads you see help offset these licensing costs and keep the monthly subscription at $7.99.

    That said, we try our best to make sure the ads you see are relevant to you, and the overall duration of the ads is still significantly less than what’s on broadcast television.

    We’re constantly looking at new ways to present this content, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see our service continue to grow over time, but hopefully this has shed a little light on our current model.

    We don’t currently have licenses for CBS or any Premium networks. We are always expanding the lineup though, so hopefully we’ll have more of what you want in the future.

    If there’s anything else I can address for you, please let me know.

    Hulu Support

  2. Gman

    I hear you Sharp Pencil. As a constant devourer of media I find myself at the end of a precipice with nothing but a chasm of choices that are undesirable at some point. Streaming is convenient and I see why more people are turning to it these days as I have a very busy schedule and less time to spend at home to watch TV. As a family we used to spend a lot of time separately in front of the TV and I put an end to that; that’s why streaming has become more important to me so I can fill spare time with streaming entertainment like my favorite TV shows. I use a combination of several services with my Blockbuster Movie Pass I get from DISH Network to get variety, which is also my employer. Besides the TV my family does watch together, like the 20 commercial free HD movie channels included, we rent Blu-ray movies through the mail, also included with the Blockbuster Movie Pass, so that is a great plus. My son rents games, (included), and I do a lot of streaming on the iPad with 10,000 titles and now 3,000 kids titles for my middle girl. Also I catch missed episodes of series on HBO streaming (extra charge), which is my current addiction since I missed the whole Sopranos phenomenon. The $10 a month the Blockbuster Movie Pass costs is so little compared to how much more I get than Netflix ever gave me and it’s less.

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