For years, our family has been trying to cut the cord with the condition that we must have local news and all the games for our favorite football team. It’s been a lot harder than we thought it would be.
First, we had cable TV, but about ten years ago, we got sick of the lack of choice and all the filler that cable providers force you to take, so we canceled our cable in favor of satellite.
Satellite TV seemed great at first but all the hidden fees, contracts, terrible customer service, and ever-escalating prices, left a bad taste in our mouth and we decided to try something else. We chose to get by on Netflix-only, supplemented by free, over-the-air broadcasts of the local channels. If you ask around online, people will eagerly tell you “over-the-air is free” like it’s a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. What most fail to say is, “over-the-air” means you have to put up a digital antenna, and unlike old analog TV antennas, digital means it needs a clear line-of-sight to whichever TV tower is broadcasting the signal you’re trying to receive.
After expending the effort to rid myself of pricey satellite TV and replace the rooftop dish with a digital antenna while showing my buttcrack to the neighborhood, I discovered the station that airs our preferred local news transmits from a distant TV tower on the other side of tall, leafy elm trees that border our yard. Every time the wind blew, our “digital signal” would pixelate. Our football games and local news were unbearably glitchy.
We went back to satellite for three years.
Then, about a year ago, we saw local channels and sports were becoming widely available on services like Hulu and YouTube and Sling and decided once again to cut out satellite and give streaming TV a try. Because I was skeptical about YouTube and wary of giving Google (who owns YouTube) even more of my information and money, we signed up for Hulu with Live TV.
It has not been a great experience, and we recently canceled the service. Here’s why.
Navigation of Hulu is a mystery
Hulu is a confusing mix of sidebars, top toolbars and secondary screens. Channels are called “Networks” in one place and “Hubs” in another, even though they’re both the same thing. If you want to watch Live TV, the process goes like this: power on your TV and start the Hulu app, select which profile to use, press the “right” button on your remote to move from the “home” link to the “live” link. Select it to bring up the guide, then scroll through a list of channels that are ordered alphabetically. Although subscribers can set up a custom channel list, the alphabetical sorting cannot be changed. So, CBS and NBC are separated with other channels in-between and not grouped together, as has been the norm with nearly every TV service through time. News channels and sports channels are not grouped together, either.
There’s no way to quickly watch a specific network
Example: it’s Sunday and you just ran to pick up takeout, the football game just got close, there’s three minutes left and every play counts. You rush into the house and fire up the TV to catch the end of the game… but there’s no quick way to just punch-in Fox, or whatever channel your game is airing on. There are no channel numbers and no quick access spot where you can quickly click on what you want. You have to go through the booting and button-clicking rigamarole to bring up the live guide, scroll, find your channel, click on the game, then wait while the progress bar spins and your stream finally appears. There’s also no way to quickly flip back and forth between two channels. If you’re like me and you switch back and forth between two football games during commercial breaks because your team stinks and the other game is more interesting, you’ll miss that.
Putting your preferred content front-and-center is hit-and-miss
Hulu’s system for designating your personal favorites involves adding a show to “My Stuff,” which is supposed to make it easy to access. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what makes a show or movie appear in My Stuff, and there’s no telling how long it will remain there. There have been too many occasions where I added something to My Stuff thinking “This is a show I’m gonna love,” but later realized I wouldn’t like it, and even though I removed it from My Stuff, it stayed on the page and I was forced to look at that title takin’ up space on the My Stuff screen for months more.
Recording your favorite content is difficult
If you scroll through Hulu’s Live TV guide and attempt to set a recording for a show that’s coming soon, it may or may not record. We’ve missed more than one show in our house because it mysteriously didn’t record. Also, episode data for shows on Hulu is befuddling. A one-hour show I watched season-after-season suddenly started appearing in my DVR each week as a 3-hour episode, with previous episodes tacked-on but labeled as “New.” Hulu only offers 50-hours of DVR time, so those 3-hour episodes quickly filled it up. I deleted them, stopped watching the show, removed it from “My Stuff” and yet, it still appears there every day.
I Don’t Watch Live TV, Grandpa
Using Hulu can be frustrating and even an amateur can spot the penny-pinching and corner-cutting that went into designing the interface. However, it’s not a dealbreaker for everybody, perhaps because I have different wants and needs than a younger subscriber might.
“I don’t watch live TV, Grandpa.”
Yeah, I get it, and if the interface had been the only problem, I might still be a subscriber. It doesn’t end there, though.
Hulu is awash in glitches and technical problems
For months we suffered through connectivity issues which would cause Hulu to disconnect several times every day. It took hours of troubleshooting, searching Hulu’s support pages and accusing our internet provider of offering substandard service before we discovered many had the same problem with Hulu and the only working solution appeared to be “uninstall the app, reinstall the app, login again and cross your fingers.”
There’s also a known glitch in which Hulu plays commercials way too loud or quiet. I don’t mean a little too loud, I mean, as if someone took your remote and turned the volume on your TV all the way up… absolutely blasting. You’re just watching an episode of a popular sitcom, they go to commercial, and suddenly it’s like Sevendust is playing a Verizon commercial on your TV and you have to quickly find the remote and then go change your pants.
If anybody in the house was sleeping, they’re not anymore.
Likewise, we have encountered many occasions where the commercials are insanely quiet, which is fine with me and led our family to exchange jokes about using the hashtag #QuietFootball because every commercial break during the game would come through at about 20-percent the volume of the game.
Actually, I’d like it if they kept that as a feature.
Hulu’s support forums say they’re aware of the issue and have been for months, but there’s no word on a solution forthcoming. It is always very frustrating to feel like your concerns are falling on deaf ears, especially when you’re paying for a service that is clearly overpriced.
Hulu lacks much-needed programming expertise
I get the impression Hulu did not spend enough or search hard enough to secure top-talent with experience in the TV business.
In traditional media like radio and TV, even programmers in the smallest media markets know it’s bad to drive your customers crazy with repetition of announcements and promos. In Hulu’s case, either nobody knows that or they don’t care.
For months now, Hulu has been running the same rotation of three promos for their service, to the point that I’ve given them names and can recite them from heart. There’s the “Abraham Lincoln’s bad theater experience” promo, there’s the “Catchphrase/Have Mercy” promo, and the Aidy Bryant “You Go, Annie!” promo. Nearly every single commercial break runs one of these promos and a quick look at the subreddit devoted to Hulu proves I am far from the only person fed up with the repetition. Even amateur programmers know to update their promos a lot more often, or, if you intend to let them play for months on end, produce a much larger number of promos so they don’t rotate at maddening, pull-out-your-hair frequency. When I attempted to contact Hulu about the issue, the reply came from a support rep who worked from a script and sent a response detailing a workaround for an entirely unrelated problem.
There are plenty of smaller problems and annoyances, too. If I want to rate a program by clicking on one of the appropriate thumbs, I shouldn’t have to also click “back” to close the menu after I rate it. When I open the Live TV Guide, the current program should continue to play in the background while channel surfing. Presently, it only functions that way on the Roku box in our dining room but not on our main LG TV in the living room, so when you bring up the Live Guide, the room gets quiet and stays that way until you find a program you want to watch. Hulu’s app is failing to do what my cable box could do in 1997.
Have I belabored the point enough? We decided we were done with Hulu with Live TV and canceled our service. At $65 dollars per month, we expected a lot more. We’ve now switched to another provider which already seems superior. I’ll give it a few months to get familiar with it and let you know what I think.
What has your experience been with streaming TV? Let me know in the comments.