Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu’s “Shark Tank” Problem

I think “Shark Tank” is one of the best hours on TV right now. Want to see for yourself? Tune in on Friday nights to ABC, where the reality show/start-up competition is in its fourth season. Mark Cuban makes a particularly excellent hero/villain.

Don’t want to watch TV on Friday nights? Don’t have a DVR? No problem.

A day after the show airs, you can see it on:
ABC’s iPad and iPhone app
And, if you get pay TV, your pay-TV service’s video on demand system.

One place you can’t see it:
Hulu Plus. The $8-a-month subscription service offers only some of the show’s episodes from previous seasons.

To beat that into the ground: If you want to watch “Shark Tank” someplace other than ABC, you have several legal options. Hulu Plus, the service that’s supposed to give its customers more TV programming than the free version it hatched out of two years ago, isn’t one of them.

Why not? Good question. An ABC rep says the company doesn’t have the rights to distribute the show on subscription video services. It says it’s up to Sony, which produces the show, to cut a deal with Hulu. But a Sony rep says ABC does have those rights. (Update: ABC now says the show is unavailable because of  a “business-related decision.”)

The net result is the same: Hulu Plus customers who want to watch the show on the service have to find another way, because of murky licensing issues.

It’s hard to get whipped up about this. As noted above, there are plenty of other ways to watch “Shark Tank.”*

The only people who are out of luck are the ones who wanted to watch the show on an Android phone or tablet (ABC doesn’t make an app for that OS), or for people who don’t have cable and want to watch the show on a device like a connected TV or an Apple TV.

I tried to watch the show via Apple TV on Saturday night. When that didn’t work, I ended up watching via Time Warner Cable. No big deal.**

And the good news is that these weird, inexplicable-to-regular-humans licensing gaps seem to happen less often than they used to, because Hulu (owned by Disney, News Corp., and Comcast***) and its programming partners have gotten better at ironing this stuff out. But they still happen. Another example: Hulu Plus customers can’t watch “The Simpsons” on their phones or TVs. Meanwhile, these rights gaps aren’t limited to Hulu.

The digital media utopia will be when media makers no longer care where or when we watch their stuff, because our eyeballs will be just as valuable on any platform. And we’re getting there! But it’s going to take awhile. If the media guys are lucky, we’ll be patient.

* And it really is quite good. If you’re reading this site, decent odds you’ll like it. It’s VC approved!

** Yup. I’ll own it — I spend my Saturday nights at home, watching reality shows.

*** News Corp. also owns this Web site.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus