How I did this?
Last year, I did some research that served as the basis for this series. In it, I detailed the availability of the top 50 shows of 2010 as legal online streams.
This year, I pulled the list up and assessed whether things had changed. For each show, I pulled up the wikipedia entry and checked what show seasons ended in 2010. I then checked which of these seasons were completely available (as in every episode of that season) on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes. In the case of Amazon and iTunes, I noted if the season was available for purchase or rent, a distinction that sometimes has an impact on price.
If only part of the season was available, I did not tally it up as available in the final tally.
So without further ado, here’s the list of top 2010 TV shows available for streaming on the internet:
|3||CSI||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|4||NCIS: LA||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|5||Two and a Half Men||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|6||The Big Bang Theory||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|7||Desperate Housewives||Yes||Yes||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|8||Criminal Minds||No||No||Purchase only – Season 6 only||Purchase only|
|9||Grey’s Anatomy||Yes||Season 6 only||Purchase or Prime||Purchase only|
|10||The Good Wife||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|11||CSI: Miami||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|12||House||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|13||CSI: NY||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|14||Lost||Yes||Yes||Purchase or Prime||Purchase only|
|15||24||Yes||No||Purchase or Prime||Purchase only|
|16||Castle||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|17||Bones||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|19||Brothers and Sisters||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|21||Glee||Yes||No||Purchase or Prime||Purchase only|
|22||Human Target||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|23||Romantically Challenged||No||No||No||Purchase only|
|24||Modern Family||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|25||Private Practice||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|26||V||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|27||The Office||Yes||Yes||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|28||How I Met Your Mother||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|29||Three Rivers||Yes||No||Prime or Purchase||Purchase only|
|30||Flashforward||Yes||Yes||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|31||Rules of Engagement||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|32||Numb3rs||Yes||No||Prime or Purchase||Purchase only|
|33||Law and Order: SVU||Yes||Yes||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|34||Ghost Whisperer||Yes||No||No||Purchase only|
|35||Lie to Me||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|36||Medium||Yes||No||Prime or Purchase||Purchase only|
|37||Family Guy||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|38||Parenthood||Yes||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|39||Accidentally on Purpose||Yes||No||No||Purchase only|
|40||Cougar Town||Yes||Yes||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|41||Fringe||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|42||Law and Order||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|43||The Simpsons||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|48||The Middle||No||No||Purchase only||No|
|49||The New Adventures of Old Christine||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
|50||Gary Unmarried||No||No||Purchase only||Purchase only|
What can be rented?
The Netflix and Hulu business models are largely predicated on a single-fee, all you can eat approach. By comparison, Amazon and iTunes have generally been more focused on a pay per view model but some surprising things popped up in the research.
First, the entry of Amazon Prime in the market seems to signal to that company preparing for a single-fee all-you-can-eat approach to augment its pay-per-view model. Secondly, one show (The good wife) was available for rent on iTunes at the time of the research (it has since moved to a Purchase only offering). Whether this was the product of error or a test trial cannot be assessed but it was an interesting development.
So does the rental picture look better this year for shows that are 2 years old? Let’s look at the data:
Netflix here is the big winner, reflecting what has been guessed at but never proven empirically until now: the company’s focus on getting older TV show collections seems to appeal to its customers and the company has been aggressively growing its catalog in this area.
Surprisingly, however, Hulu has lost considerable ground here, losing about 10% of the content it was offering only a year ago. This appears to reflect a strategy whereas Hulu works as a catch-up TV model but once shows get older, they are dropped altogether.
While only a few months old, the Amazon Prime offering has been playing catch-up in this area, and is apparently aggressively going after the Netflix model. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to see a match in the catalogs of those two companies next year.
Meanwhile, iTunes has mostly gotten out of the rental market for those shows, opting instead for a sales-focused model.
Can I buy a show?
For people who prefer purchasing complete seasons as online streams (probably the same people that used to purchase those as DVDs in the past), the story looks really great. Both Amazon and Apple have made strong headway in making that content available. However, surprisingly, there are still a few holdouts who are making their shows unavailable for online streaming even over a year after those seasons ended.
The distribution of shows actually seems to shrink when you go further down the catalog. This could be because the studios don’t feel like investing further into shows that were not at the top of the list. While this is an interesting concept, it completely goes against the idea of long tail availability of content on the internet. Even in a word where the marginal cost of putting a show online is very low, the studios are deciding that the low cost is not even worth it, leaving potential audiences without a legal way to get to that content. If I were an online streaming service content acquirer, I would offer a revenue sharing deal on this content in exchange for unlimited exclusivity to it. I might even go as far as taking care of the digital conversion, with the idea that costs would be covered under the revenue sharing agreement, with the first few dollars required for conversion going back to the party that did the conversion. This model would allow properties that had only a niche appeal to find new life as new people joining that niche could now get access to that content.
The first thing one notices is that older TV shows are still hard to find on all-you-can-watch subscription based types services. While Hulu seems to be focusing on the catch-up TV model and fails drastically on keeping longer terms archives, Netflix’s offering is still relatively weak, with less than half of the top TV shows of 2010 being available over a year after they ended. TV studios seem to have opted for selling this content to consumers, an option that may end up producing less revenue to them in the long run as the cost of such shows is still relatively high (between $20 and $40 per show season).
While the TV studios may look at streaming as equivalent to DVD ownership, the consumers are still considering streams as a cheaper alternative to the plastic disks and thus will probably not go for the same price levels on streams as they do on DVDs. This kind of price pressure is pretty common in digital media and has already been witnessed in music and books.
As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, availability of recent content is relatively limited when it comes to legal streaming. What is more worrisome is that while time has some impact on available content, a lot of shows still are not made available as legal stream.
In a world where TV studios complain about their shows being made available online by pirates, they should first look at why people are pirating these shows: by failing to provide a legal alternative, the TV studios are partly responsible for the piracy problem and should first focus on providing legal ways to access all old content before complaining that individuals are making that content available.
Piracy will always exist but consumers may be more inclined to support the people fighting piracy if legal alternatives to piracy are avalaible. It is thus incumbent on the TV studios to make all their content available online for people who are willing to pay for it.