The 2010 state of Internet VOD: TV

How many of the top 50 TV shows can one stream legally online in 2010?

Last week, I looked at which legal streams were available for movie box office winners . This week, I investigate how internet VOD services are faring when it comes to offering top rated TV shows.


The first part of my investigation was to find data that presented the top TV series on television in the United States in 2010. Surprisingly, that data was not that easy to get but had a list of the top shows that could be used.

Because news shows, variety shows, sport shows, and reality TV shows seem to lose their freshness once aired, I decided to remove them from the list as I assumed the demand for such show on VOD would probably be limited over time. All this cleaning up allowed me to format a list of the top TV series which I could then use for research.

Because TV seasons change in the middle of the year, I’ve looked to include seasons that ended in 2010 and seasons that started in 2010. If only one set is available, this is noted in the table. If both seasons are available, I put in Yes.

I picked Netflix and Hulu as the first two services to look at because they have positioned themselves as alternative ways to watch the shows. I also included data from Amazon VOD, and iTunes as both of them are trying to sell either season pass or per show purchasing to their users. I did not include the individual station’s websites sites (eg.,,,, etc…) because most of them are only accessible via computers and a high number of them have started blocking devices which were trying to offer access to their content from a TV screen. For the same reason, I focused on Hulu Plus content instead of the web-based one only.
It is important to note that TV episodes on Amazon and iTunes are available in different formats, either on a season-pass basis, per episode rental, or per episode purchase.

I’ve capped the list at 50 titles because, from a trend standpoint, the data seem to be roughly the same at top 50 and top 75.

The list

So without further ado, here’s the list of top 2010 TV shows available for streaming on the internet:

Rank Name Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
1 NCIS No No No Purchase only
2 The Mentalist No No No No
3 CSI No No No Purchase only
4 NCIS: LA No No No Purchase only
5 Two and a Half Men No No Yes Yes
6 The Big Bang Theory No No No No
7 Desperate Housewives Season 6 Yes Yes Yes
8 Criminal Minds No No No Purchase only
9 Grey’s Anatomy Season 6 Yes Yes Yes
10 The Good Wife No No No Yes
11 CSI: Miami No No No Purchase only
12 House No Yes Purchase only Purchase only
13 CSI: NY No No No Purchase only
14 Lost Yes Yes Purchase only Purchase only
15 24 No No Purchase only Yes
16 Castle No Yes Purchase only Yes
17 Bones Season 5 Season 6 Purchase only Yes
19 Brothers and Sisters Season 4 Season 5 Purchase only Yes
20 Cold Case No No No No
21 Glee No Yes Purchase only Yes
22 Human Target No No Purchase only Purchase only
23 Romantically Challenged No No Yes Yes
24 Modern Family No Season 2 Purchase only Purchase only
25 Private Practice No Season 4 Purchase only Yes
26 V No No Season 1 Season 1
27 The Office Season 6 Yes Purchase only Purchase only
28 How I Met Your Mother No No Purchase only Purchase only
29 Three Rivers No No No Purchase only
30 Flashforward No Yes Purchase only Yes
31 Rules of Engagement No No Purchase only Purchase only
32 Numb3rs No No No Purchase only
33 Law and Order: SVU Eleventh Year Yes Purchase only Purchase only
34 Ghost Whisperer No No No Purchase only
35 Lie to Me Season 2 Last 5 episodes Purchase only Purchase only
36 Medium No No No Purchase only
37 Family Guy Season 8 Yes Season 8 Season 8
38 Parenthood No Season 2 Purchase only Purchase only
39 Accidentally on Purpose No No No Purchase only
40 Cougar Town No Last 5 episodes Purchase only Purchase only
41 Fringe No No Season 2 Purchase only
42 Law and Order No No Purchase only Purchase only
43 The Simpsons No No Purchase only Purchase only
44 Miami Medical No No No No
45 The Forgotten No No No No
46 Hank No No No No
47 Mercy Yes Yes Yes Yes
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

Let’s total this up to see how the different services did:

Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
Partial Offering 10 18 30 41
Partial Offering as Percentage 20% 36% 60% 82%
Complete Series 2 12 28 39
Complete Series as Percentage 4% 24% 56% 78%

One of the first interesting trends to notice is that Hulu Plus seems to offer more recent episodes when it does but Netflix seems to offer older ones that are not available on Hulu. Oftentimes, the two offer different selection on the same show, allowing users with subscriptions to both services to get wider coverage. Yet, Hulu only offers a bit over one third of all the big rating getters last year and Netflix offers only one out of five of those series on a partial basis.

Current seasons seem to be a strength area for Hulu Plus and a substantial weakness for Netflix. This may be of some significance as far as the cord-cutter trend is concerned. A question one could pose here is whether cord-cutters want fresh content or not. If the latter is the case, then Netflix may provide enough. On the other hand, if cord-cutter expect to be able to get relatively recent shows on their TV, they will either have to check the Hulu Plus listing or purchase the episodes on an individual basis.

Another interesting note is that while many episodes are available for rent on iTunes and for sale on Amazon, the price difference tends to be pretty substantial with Amazon selling rights to own for $.99 per episode while Apple charges the same amount for the right to rent (they tend to charge $2.99 per episode for the right to own).

Breaking it down

If you want some of the series (let’s say one season but not the other), here’s what the data looks like:

Partial offering Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
Top 10 2 2 3 8
Top 25 5 10 14 21
Top 50 10 18 31 41

… but if you want full coverage (ie. both the 2009 season that ended in 2010 and the 2010 season that bleeds into 2011), the data looks as follows:

Complete offering Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
Top 10 0 2 3 8
Top 25 1 6 14 21
Top 50 2 12 28 39


Looking at the total numbers, the subscription model offered by Netflix and Hulu Plus seem to offer a relatively slim selection. However, the costs associated with purchasing season pass for every show one follows could get prohibitive (in the research, it appeared that shows averaged between $30 and $60 for a season pass).

All told, the Video On Demand services appear to have room for improvement. While Apple has an early lead in terms of overall coverage, its iTunes store is also the more expensive one, giving Amazon an opportunity to expand its footprint by selling titles at a lower price. In terms of availability, however, Apple seems to hold a very solid lead over its competitors.

The subscription model offered by Hulu Plus and Netflix, however, still have a long way to go if they are aiming to truly be disruptors.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 ( and Earthweb) went public and two were sold (Net Quotient and MoveableMedia). My latest, Keepskor provides tools allowing anyone to develop mobile and connected TV games without writing a line of code. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.