Legal streams for 2011 TV hits

How many of the top 50 TV shows of 2011 can one stream legally online?

Last week, I looked at the availability of 2011 movie box office winners as legal internet streams. The results seem to incense Netflix supporters, who pointed out that the comparison was unfair because Netflix was more focused on TV fares. This week, I turn my attention to availability of popular TV shows as internet on-demand streams.

Approach

As I did a year ago, I pulled the data from Deadline.com’s Broadcast series ranker and cleaned it up. I took out every live and reality TV shows as the archival value of such show is limited since they are primarily marketed as “events” and, as such, loose most of their value to the viewer after the initial broadcast.

Where part of one of the seasons was available, I gave the service a partial availability. Where seasons prior to the 2010-2011 years were available, I did not give credit if the 2010-2011 season had no availability because I was focusing the effort on availability of last year’s shows.

From a service standpoint, I focused on services that allowed for streaming to most internet-enabled television. This meant that Netflix and Hulu were the main subscription based offerings and Amazon on-demand and iTunes were listed as pay-per-view services.

The list

With­out fur­ther ado, here’s the list of top 2011 TV shows avail­able for stream­ing on the internet:

Rank Name Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
1 NCIS No Partial Yes Yes
2 NCIS: LA No Partial Yes Yes
3 The Mentalist No No No No
4 Criminal Minds No Partial Yes Yes
5 CSI No No Yes Yes
6 The Big Bang Theory  No Partial  Yes  Yes
7 Body of Proof  No  Yes  Yes  Yes
8 The Good Wife  No  No  Yes  Yes
9 Two and a Half Men  No  No Yes Yes
10 Blue Bloods  No No Yes Yes
11 CSI: Miami  No  No  Yes  Yes
12 Hawaii Five-0  No  No  Yes  Yes
13 Modern Family  No Yes Yes Yes
14 Desperate Housewives  Partial Yes Yes Yes
15 Harry’s Law  No No No No
16 Bones  Partial Yes Yes Yes
17 Castle  No Yes  Yes  Yes
18 Grey’s Anatomy  Partial Yes Yes Yes
19 Mike & Molly  No No  Yes  No
20 CSI: NY  No No  Yes  Yes
21 $#* My Dad Says  No No  No  No
22 The Defenders  Yes No  No  No
23 Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior  Yes No  No  Yes
24 House  No Yes  Yes  Yes
25 Glee  Partial Yes  Yes  Yes
26 Rules of Engagement  No No  Yes  Yes
27 Law and Order: SVU  Partial Yes  Yes  Yes
28 How I met your mother  Partial Partial  Yes  Yes
29 Brothers and Sisters  Yes No  Yes  Yes
30 Breaking In  No No  Yes  Yes
31 The Middle  No Partial  Yes  Yes
32 Medium  Yes No  Yes  Yes
33 Office  Partial Yes  Yes  Yes
34 Private Practice  Partial Yes  Yes  Yes
35 Law and Order: LA No No  No  No
36 Family Guy  No Yes  Yes  Yes
37 Human Target  No No  Yes  Yes
38 Detroit 1-8-7  Yes Yes Yes Yes
39 The Chicago Code No Yes Yes Yes
40 Flashpoint  Yes No Yes Yes
41 Cougar Town  No Yes Yes Yes
42 Mr. Sunshine  No No Yes Yes
43 The Simpsons No Partial Yes Yes
44 The Event Yes Yes Yes Yes
45 V No Yes Yes Yes
46 Mad Love  No No No No
47 Parenthood  Partial Yes Yes Yes
48 Lie to Me  Yes  No Yes Yes
49 Chaos  No No Yes Yes
50 No Ordinary Family  Yes No Yes Yes

While it is fun to check if your favorite show is available or not, the real interesting trending data only comes when you re-group the information. For this purpose, I looked at two different sets of data: first, I looked at whether all the episodes of the 2010-2011 season were available for a given series. Then I re-ran my research, giving full credit to the service for having “some” episodes from that season.

The results were as follows:

Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
Some Episodes 18 25 43 43
Partial Offering as Percentage 36% 50% 86% 86%
Complete Series 9 18 43 43
Complete Offering as Percentage 18% 36% 86% 86%

As one would expect, the pay-per-view services are doing better than the subscription based ones but what is surprising is how little content is actually available on the subscription-based services: Hulu only offers some episodes of half of the most popular shows, while Netflix barely has any offerings, clocking in with just above a third of the shows having some kind of stream.

When trying to access full seasons, the data is even worse, as Netflix offers full seasons on only 9 (or 18%) of the top 50 shows, while Hulu gives you access to the 2010-2011 season for 18 shows (or 36%). The amusing thing is that Hulu appears to give you access to as many full seasons as Netflix has as partial ones. The data shows that if you want access to popular TV shows via subscription, you’re better off going with Hulu than you are going with Netflix.

What seems to be hurting those services is the fact that CBS, one of the large TV networks has decided to go it alone when it comes to their own shows and show them on their own sites instead of making them available to stream aggregators.

Another interesting thing is that Netflix seems to pick up cancelled shows more readily than any other service. In my research, I found that if a show had been cancelled over the last year, it was more likely to be available on Netflix than on any of the other services.

On the pay-per-view side, Amazon and iTunes have now reached parity, as both service offer 43 (or 86%) of the shows on either per-episode or per-season fees. Their pricing seems to be roughly the same, with shows average between $.99 and $3.99 per episodes and full TV seasons passes going for $20.99 to $40.99. I would not be surprised if next year, we saw those services having the full set of shows available for instant streaming.

Breaking it down

Looking at the distribution, one might wonder how each of the services fares on sub-sets of the overall group. Furthermore, in terms of getting a better sense of trends, if is useful to overlay this with last year’s data and see whether progress has been made:

Complete offering Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change
Top 10 0 0 Same 2 1 -1 6 9 +3 8 9 +1
Top 25 1 2 +1 6 8 +2 14 20 +6 21 20 -1
Top 50 2 9 +7 12 18 +6 28 43 +15 39 43 +4

Overall, it looks like top 10 shows are less available onall-you-can-eat  subscription-based services this year than they were last year, while there is an increase in availability on pay-per-view services.

Netflix continues to trail other services in terms of making full seasons available and it seems it is a gap that will not narrow any time soon as Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes continue to aggressively grow their catalogs. In fact, the big story in this graph may be the big push Amazon is making in adding new titles to its streaming library. It has now matched Apple’s iTunes store in terms of offering, closing the gap it had last year.

When looking at partial availability, we are still seeing some differences:

Partial offering Netflix Hulu Amazon iTunes
2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change 2010 2011 Change
Top 10 2 0 -2 2 5 +3 3 9 +6 8 9 +1
Top 25 5 6 +1 10 12 +2 14 20 +6 21 20 -1
Top 50 10 18 +8 18 25 +7 31 43 +12 41 43 +2

Here, Netflix appears to have actually list some ground when it comes to the top 10 list, while all the other players have made substantial progress. This may point to another weakness for Netflix moving forward. Also of note is that while Apple used to be the go-to source for all TV series, Amazon has closed the gap in the last year, establishing itself as a strong second player in the market.

Conclusion

Many people look to online TV streams as the key to increasing the number of people cutting the cord from their cable companies and moving to internet-only offerings. This year’s data seems to indicate that it is now possible to do so but that the costs associated with such a strategy may not necessarily represent a huge saving for people who consume a lot of TV content.

The greatest amount of available content in terms of legal online streams can be found on pay-per-view services and subscription-based services like Netflix and Hulu still have some ways to go before providing a TV-like selection (this may explain why both of them are starting to turn further in the direction of producing their own content). However, viewers who watch only a few select show may be able to get this content from services like Amazon and Apple iTunes for a fee.

People watching this space should pay closer attention to Amazon’s aggressive push in this arena. As the company continues to expand its digital offerings, it seems to have earmarked video as one of the areas in which it is willing to go big and it has quietly grown its catalog over the last year.

Meanwhile, while Hollywood is trying to push for laws against online piracy (things like SOPA and PIPA), creating frictions with the tech community in the process, maybe it should focus on making content available through legal channels first, before complaining that people are stealing content. One of the reason people may be drive to piracy is the lack of availability of the content through legal means. Fill that gap, and you will see substantially less piracy of content happening on the internet.

Next week, I’ll take you through last year’s box office winners and how available those are. There are more surprises there, I promise; so stay tuned.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 (internet.com 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.

  • Karras Bommer

    What? No Criminal Intent?

  • Jim Cummings

    At some point, it would be good to see this list WITH network sites included; these are indeed available streams in many cases (eg CBS as you note).  Though often just the previous 2-3 episodes…..

    • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

      That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll do that when I re-run the study next year :)

  • ScottinAL

    I would add to your sentence regarding SOPA and PIPA thusly “ One of the rea­son peo­ple may be driven to piracy is the lack of avail­abil­ity of the con­tent through legal means. . . AT A REASONABLE PRICE. Music piracy has almost completely gone away due to MOG and Spotify. $10 bucks / month for millions of songs? That’s a no-brainer. When it come to TV and movies, I would pay substantially more than what I am paying Netflix right now for a subscription service that had almost all the available content. But I almost never pay for pay-per-view streaming. They’re just too expensive. 

    • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

      True. Reasonable is a good test. I do believe, however, that pay-per-view is a viable offering: You may not pay for it but a lot of people, myself included, are willing to pay the $3.99 to $4.99 for a rental.