08 October 2014

Streaming Blues

The streaming-TV site Hulu has been around for six years or so, and for a while I used it as a way to catch up on episodes I'd missed of certain shows. Generally a certain number of episodes of a show are available at a time, and if you don't keep up while a show is airing, the ability to view an entire season requires a subscription to Hulu Plus. I don't subscribe because I don't need to, and also because for your $8 a month, you still have to endure ads.

Lately I've been watching only one show via Hulu, a period drama about the scientists working on the atomic bomb project during World War II called Manhattan. The show airs on an obscure channel called WGN America that is not carried by Comcast, and WGN doesn't stream the episodes on their website, so I figured I wouldn't be able to see it. It wasn't until maybe three weeks after the show premiered during the summer that I even thought to look for it on Hulu, and didn't expect to find it but it was there (possibly because WGNA doesn't have the availability of some other channels).

New episodes are delayed three days after they originally air on WGNA before appearing on Hulu, which is no big deal (some Fox shows are delayed eight days). But my viewing experience with Hulu's streaming player has been atrocious. I've used all the TV channels' online players, and most of them work as they're supposed to. With Hulu, playback itself is fine; it's the transitions between ad blocks and show segments that's the problem.

Hulu shows blocks of ads that run between 90 and 120 seconds. When the blocks are finished the next segment of the show is supposed to play, but often nothing happens. The only way to restart the show is to refresh the browser, and then I have to watch another ad that's between 15 and 30 seconds, and then I wait to see if the show will start playing again. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't and I have to refresh two, three, or four more times, not knowing if it will work and enduring another ad each time. There are five or six ad breaks in each episode of Manhattan.

I assumed this was a nefarious ploy on the part of Hulu to subject viewers to more ads in each show they watch. Then it occurred to me to try a different browser. I already have to watch Netflix content in Safari because of some bug in Firefox that prevents proper playback, so I used Hulu in Safari and the show played flawlessly. I even got to forgo three ad breaks by watching a movie trailer, which Hulu does at random.

There are comments on Hulu from other users complaining of the same issue, so I have to think it's a browser-related bug. And there are only two episodes left in the first season of Manhattan, so I may not need to use Hulu again for a while.

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