How Hulu’s Subscription Model Affects User Experience

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Hulu is a popular streaming service providing thousands of tv shows and movies to millions of users. Here we will discuss the multiple levels of subscriptions that they provide, along with how their business model changed over time to establish a userbase. Starting as a free service and moving to a fully paid subscription, the way that users interacted with the site and how they had access changed with this move and resulted in differing modes of interaction.

               Starting off as a free streaming service with the option to subscribe to Hulu Plus, which gave users instant access to new tv episodes and larger access to full seasons and movies. This was done in attempt to collect a userbase by giving users a taste of what kinds of shows they could see, and what the platform could offer. The allure of Hulu Plus was given because episodes of tv series were released on the platform weekly, and being able to catch up on your favorite shows is a big deal to those who discuss them with friends or who want to be “in the know” on pop culture news and memes.

               By separating off the subscriptions based on timing of episode release, it sectioned off those that could be in the know and created a privileged community among the users of Hulu. Those with Hulu Plus were given freedom from having to catch scheduled weekly tv releases and could watch the new episodes at their leisure the same week, while others had to wait at least another week. This gave a community in the comment section of videos the upper hand in discussing the episodes just like how you would discuss them in real life, and this made people feel more powerful and free.

Whether this was a malevolent or benevolent feature depends on if you are asking those in the Plus group or the regular users. I believe it was not so much a nice or mean move as strictly an essential business move. I also think that giving a section of users the ability to upgrade to receive benefits of time is the least malevolent decision to be made, as simply having to wait a week or so for the episode to be available for all users isn’t too much of a strain. Other platforms follow this organization as well, for example CrunchyRoll has premium members that have immediate access to new episode releases.

As the platform grew and they gained more and more loyal users, so did their business model. They changed into a paid-only access subscription model with individual tv channel provider subscriptions, and a deal with Spotify to link account subscriptions. Changing into a paid-only subscription model was slightly malevolent, as they basically lured people into the platform then trapped them within subscriptions when people fell in love with it. However, it seems reasonable from a business perspective to keep the platform viable.

One of the features that I particularly dislike with Hulu, however, is the tv channel provider subscription model. To be able to access Hulu, you need to subscribe to the general Hulu streaming service, but to access a large number of shows and movies you need additional subscriptions to individual channel providers such as Star, FX, and E!. I often find myself looking up a show just to find out that I need an additional subscription to Hulu + Live TV which costs $55/month. With the base subscription being a measly $5/month through Spotify Student, this upgrade is quite a substantial one. This seems to only irritate its patronage with the temptation of viewing these shows and movies, while holding a quite substantial subscription fee over their heads. Personally, I don’t think any of the people that I know would pay $55/month for a streaming service, even if it had half the movies and shows on the internet. This simply creates some super elite class of the Hulu community that very few would be willing to enter and angering the rest.

Another subscription model that Hulu holds is ad-free Hulu. Subscribers to Hulu are still shown ads in every movie and show they watch, which seems quite malevolent. They are already asking users to pay to get on their site, then making more money off the ads that they show, then asking people to pay more to remove the ads. Another streaming service, Netflix, does not show any ads at all, and rather asks users to simply pay more. I believe this is a much more benevolent approach to ad revenue. Having your viewing experience constantly interrupted by ads is very disruptive, and the ads can last up to 3 minutes for each break. This adds up to almost a quarter or third of the entire viewing experience sometimes, which is a ridiculous proportion. They even offer you to watch a 5 minute movie trailer at the beginning of the episode to eliminate all other ad breaks, but sometimes it still shows ads later if you accidentally skip the ad without watching the entirety, even if you watched 90 percent of the ad.

All in all, Hulu’s subscription models, while some being motivated by business and not too harmful, have changed to be quite annoying and pressuring to its userbase. By giving people an ad-supported, limited library with the subscription, it basically forces people to pay for more expensive subscriptions to get even a quarter of the total experience that Hulu can offer. It is also very confusing to navigate the many different types of bundles, ad-free, ad-supported, and live tv subscriptions prices that can be calculated. I believe that a much better way to structure it would be more like Netflix, allowing a single level of subscription with a scaling price based on family members to give an easy, straight-forward sign-up process with a much better UI and viewing experience. In short, Hulu’s subscription service is not well suited to provide users with a streaming service they can count on and enjoy.

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