Friday, July 8, 2011

Star Trek Streaming, Netflix/Hulu Gripes

And Netflix is coming en espanol y francais? I told ya'll some time ago about Netflix' super-deal to bring many series to its site. Well, that deal seems to be in full effect now, as all of the Star Trek series have become available to Watch Instantly, all in the last two days (just 4 months later). I was in the middle of noting its absence (see below), when I decided to check - and they're now up.

I guess it's a big deal for some, and it represents an addition of 400 or so episodes of (culturally) popular television to the online viewing library. Given that, I figured I'd mention it in the title and note it up front.

Also, Netflix is expanding beyond the USA and Canada. It will soon arrive, for Streaming only, to South and Latin America, as well as the Caribbean. To accommodate the tangled web of languages caused by scummy European Colonialism, vids will be available in English, Spanish, and French. Anybody up for "There's Something about Mary" or "Die Hard" in SAP?

The rest of the article has little to do with that, so I figured I'd note that upfront...

Do people like to complain more today? Is there just more to complain about? Are these issues to discuss in a movie blog?

I won't tackle any of those questions, unless someone wants me to. What I will do is list a few basic flaws in Netflix and Hulu.

1 - login issues

Since around the time of The Great Instant TV Section Makeover (that I totally predicted), I find that if I type in the name of an actor and click on the link to their filmography, I have to sign in again. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but imagine deciding to look up every picture with Penn Jillete, then Bill Murray, then Jennifer Jason Leigh. Whether I tried to pick films in common or not, I'd find myself having to log in every single time I wanted to look up someone's cinema cv.

On the Hulu side, I find that their incredible dependence on flash for everything means that there's no way to tell your browser or OS to remember the password. Seriously, Hulu, are you supposed to be so important that I keep the pw to your website on the tip of my tongue all the time?

2 - availability/notice issues
As I've written before, Hulu notices are notorious for being out of date. I won't flog a dead anything here, I'll simply direct you to the page for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." There's still a notice stating "Season 1 will be available starting April 1." It's nice that Hulu rotates which season of "BtVS" is available for free, but the only free pix right now are the for the first half of Season 2. C'mon, guys...

What about Netflix? For the last 2-3 months, the picture/avatar for certain TV shows will suddenly have the stenciled words "New Episodes" on it. This banner appears on series that have concluded already, where every ep is already up on the site. It also appears on other shows, making me think that their 2nd season has gone to Streaming, but no joy. And it's not even as if the DVDs came out at the time - then, there would be new episodes, you just wouldn't be able to see them online.

3 - recommendation systems

For both Hulu and Netflix, as near as I can tell, both systems still kinda suck. Netflix' system tries to do too much, whereas Hulu's aims lower and is usually too predictable.

4 - unnecessary baggage

Hulu has a maturity rating system that requires you to make an account and sign in to watch something a little... adult. If it's gonna have nudity, curses, or material that's about as bad (think adult swim cartoons), then you have to log in to watch. Unfortunately, the websites for the networks that carry those shows don't require any kind of login at all. So, uh, thanks for... uh...

Netflix's failing here ties back to the problem in #2 above. The company made a blockbuster deal a while back, picking up The Twilight Zone, among other shows, and access to all of the episodes of Star Trek, from the 1960s to the 2000s. All the other series mentioned in the deal have become available - long ago, actually - but only in the last day or two has the "ST" set become available.

So this huge collection is now online, but there hasn't been any kind of announcement of it - not on teh Netflix blog, and not on the "Watch Instantly" home page. In fact, as of last Monday, only the page for the original Shatner-Nimoy run indicated that the show would be available for streaming "soon." So, we've gone from "no notice" on one series to "complete availability" of that and all its related series. This dovetails nicely into:

5 - what is "new?"

Netflix is awful when it comes to letting you know what's just gone to streaming, right? There's a line on the "WI" homepage that tells you what is new - but the list mixes what's gone online today with what went online 3 weeks ago. When you ask to look at "all" new videos, you get a page that can't be sorted chronologically; same goes for tv. This aspect of the site gets two big "thumbs down."

Hulu has so many different ways of registering "new" "full episodes" of "tv shows" that my browser's memory can hold up to 4 different URLs for the words "Hulu" and "new" or "latest." It's not a fluke on my part - the site has many different url codes to show you one list. It's as if the webmasters don't get that most users won't go to their homepage, they'll type "Hulu" in their browser and look for the option that reads "Hulu - Latest / Episodes..."

This quick "top 5" list is a small sample of the ongoing issues with the two biggest online video streaming sites. So long as they're in business, they might as well have customers that challenge them to do better and improve their services. My two cents are in now, and I'll leave it at that...

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