The 2010 state of Internet VOD: TV

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:

1NCISNoNoNoPurchase only
2The MentalistNoNoNoNo
3CSINoNoNoPurchase only
4NCIS: LANoNoNoPurchase only
5Two and a Half MenNoNoYesYes
6The Big Bang TheoryNoNoNoNo
7Desperate HousewivesSeason 6YesYesYes
8Criminal MindsNoNoNoPurchase only
9Grey’s AnatomySeason 6YesYesYes
10The Good WifeNoNoNoYes
11CSI: MiamiNoNoNoPurchase only
12HouseNoYesPurchase onlyPurchase only
13CSI: NYNoNoNoPurchase only
14LostYesYesPurchase onlyPurchase only
1524NoNoPurchase onlyYes
16CastleNoYesPurchase onlyYes
17BonesSeason 5Season 6Purchase onlyYes
19Brothers and SistersSeason 4Season 5Purchase onlyYes
20Cold CaseNoNoNoNo
21GleeNoYesPurchase onlyYes
22Human TargetNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
23Romantically ChallengedNoNoYesYes
24Modern FamilyNoSeason 2Purchase onlyPurchase only
25Private PracticeNoSeason 4Purchase onlyYes
26VNoNoSeason 1Season 1
27The OfficeSeason 6YesPurchase onlyPurchase only
28How I Met Your MotherNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
29Three RiversNoNoNoPurchase only
30FlashforwardNoYesPurchase onlyYes
31Rules of EngagementNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
32Numb3rsNoNoNoPurchase only
33Law and Order: SVUEleventh YearYesPurchase onlyPurchase only
34Ghost WhispererNoNoNoPurchase only
35Lie to MeSeason 2Last 5 episodesPurchase onlyPurchase only
36MediumNoNoNoPurchase only
37Family GuySeason 8YesSeason 8Season 8
38ParenthoodNoSeason 2Purchase onlyPurchase only
39Accidentally on PurposeNoNoNoPurchase only
40Cougar TownNoLast 5 episodesPurchase onlyPurchase only
41FringeNoNoSeason 2Purchase only
42Law and OrderNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
43The SimpsonsNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
44Miami MedicalNoNoNoNo
45The ForgottenNoNoNoNo
48The MiddleNoNoPurchase onlyNo
49The New Adventures of Old ChristineNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only
50Gary UnmarriedNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase only

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

Partial Offering10183041
Partial Offering as Percentage20%36%60%82%
Complete Series2122839
Complete Series as Percentage4%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 offeringNetflixHuluAmazoniTunes
Top 102238
Top 255101421
Top 5010183141

… 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 offeringNetflixHuluAmazoniTunes
Top 100238
Top 25161421
Top 502122839


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.

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