Legal streams for 2011 TV hits

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.


As I did a year ago, I pulled the data from’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:

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

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:

Some Episodes18254343
Partial Offering as Percentage36%50%86%86%
Complete Series9184343
Complete Offering as Percentage18%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 offeringNetflixHuluAmazoniTunes
Top 1000Same21-169+389+1
Top 2512+168+21420+62120-1
Top 5029+71218+62843+153943+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 offeringNetflixHuluAmazoniTunes
Top 1020-225+339+689+1
Top 2556+11012+21420+62120-1
Top 501018+81825+73143+124143+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.


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.

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