Sunday, February 10, 2019

WARNING: Hulu (No Ads)+ Live TV Has Lots of Ads!

I've been using Hulu + Live TV for several months after evaluating all the major OTT live TV streaming providers. I initially signed up for the $39.99/mo plan. Having come off of Dish TV with its ad skipper functionality on its DVR, I grew used to not watching ads on my favorite TV shows. So when I got Hulu + Live TV, I was so excited to discover that for an extra $4/mo more, I would not have to watch ads. Seemed like a great deal to remove this inconvenience and I was surprised they didn't promote this more on their website. According to Hulu's fine print, with the exception of a few shows, there's no ads.
My current plan

If you click on the Learn More link, Hulu even lists the shows that are subject to ads. Since I didn't watch any of them, I didn't think it would impact me.

But I soon discovered all, but 2, of my shows I watch regularly have commercials on playback. I understand when I watch live TV, I have to sit through real-time ad breaks. But I am watching these shows on delay (not live!) from their VOD library, not even from my cloud DVR. These ad breaks vary from 2 minutes to sometimes nearly 4 minutes of unskippable ads. From NFL Prime Time to Madam Secretary to S.W.A.T, I had to actually spend 30 minutes to watch a 30 minute show again! How is this possible with my $4 add-on plan? 

Their list of shows with ads was very short. But where are the shows I watch with ads? Why aren't they listed? Then I found this buried deep in their site. 

If you subscribe to Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV, please note that you will still see ads during live streams, DVR recordings and the additional on-demand content that is offered directly by each network.

The fine print

Apparently, this "network on demand" content from their live TV service is totally different and outside of their "standard" Hulu (No Ads) VOD library for $11.99/mo.

It's so confusing, that Hulu even has a help page dedicated to this question!

Even more confusing, the same show in their VOD library may have ads for newer season episodes, while older seasons will have no ads! All due to their negotiated contracts with ad networks. As a consumer, you can't even tell where that line is drawn until you're cruising along happily binge watching your favorite show without ads, and then BAM! You hit a 2-minute commercial break.

It gets worse. Here's an example of an even more lame user experience. When I watch ESPN and sometimes they don't sell out their ad inventory, they show a placeholder still frame for 30 seconds with an annoying elevator muzak loop. Why would you make a viewer watch dead space on delayed playback (not live TV use case here!) that clearly was not monetized? Just give us 30 seconds of our lives back and cut back to our favorite show earlier, people!

ESPN 30-sec non-commercial commercial break splash screen
Fast forward to present day and the new price hikes announced by Hulu earlier this month. This made me re-evaluate my current plan. While in my account, I looked for the fine print on my "no ads" plan.

I now realize the name of the service offering is very deliberate and subtle. I thought I had subscribed to Hulu + Live TV (No Ads) plan. However, it's actually called Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV plan. So it's technically true that the Hulu's original video on-demand library has almost no ads, but they are not claiming that for the "+ Live TV" portion of the service.

Here's something else I discovered. If you upgrade to their Enhanced Cloud DVR add-on for $9.99/mo (previously $14.99), you can fast forward through ads on your DVR recordings. But that does not apply to content in their VOD library still so watch out! Plus that's a hefty price premium. I honestly would be willing to pay probably an extra $10/mo for no ads across the entire Hulu + Live TV experience if they offered it!

Hulu is also apparently testing a new Pause ad unit with Charmin and Coca-Cola. I hope this works actually because maybe it will then allow Hulu to lower the ad load during my favorite shows.

It all boils down to improving Hulu's marketing and user experience:

  1. As a marketer, I can see why Hulu carefully names their service this way. I'm sure they thought about it in the boardroom: Hulu+Live TV (Lots of Commercials) does not sound as alluring as Hulu (No Ads)+Live TV. So is Hulu committing false advertising? You decide.
  2. The inconsistent user experience between ads shown with video content from the standard Hulu library vs. network partners is confusing. How is the average consumer supposed to tell the difference in source? Not to mention the fact that they shouldn't. It's ONE Hulu service to me and I don't want to split hairs. So I removed my $4/mo "no ads" add-on. With their newly announced price adjustments, this means my total monthly price only will be $1 higher now ($44.99 vs. $43.99), instead of $7.
I really do miss the ad skip button on my old Dish TV remote...


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