Original Content podcast: Hulu’s ‘Happiest Season’ casts fresh characters in a familiar story

“Happiest Season,” a new film on Hulu, feels like a traditional, Christmas-themed romantic comedy — with one important exception.

The movie stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a lesbian couple who are visiting Harper’s parents for the holidays. As they drive back to Harper’s childhood home, she makes a big confession: Despite what she’s told Abby previous, she never actually came out to her parents, which means Abby has to spend five days simultaneously ingratiating herself with Harper’s family while hiding the true nature of their relationship.

As we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Happiest Season” can feel predictable or even formulaic at times. But in some ways, that’s what makes it so worthwhile — it demonstrates how a broad, crowd-pleasing comedy can just happen to star queer characters.

Despite the frequent laugh-out-loud moments, the movie also feels surprisingly honest in its depiction of how hurtful Harper’s secrecy can be,  and it enters surprisingly painful and emotional territory as it approaches the end.

In addition to reviewing “Happiest Season,” we also name our favorite Christmas movies and discuss the news that that Warner Bros. will release its entire 2021 slate (including “Dune” and “The Matrix 4”) on HBO Max at the same time that the movies are released in theaters.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:39 Listener email
2:07 HBO Max discussion
13:15 “Happiest Season” review
34:09 “Happiest Season” spoiler discussion
44:33 Favorite Christmas movies

#entertainment, #happiest-season, #hulu, #media, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Hulu officially launches its co-viewing feature Watch Party

Hulu’s social viewing feature, Watch Party, has now launched to all on-demand subscribers, the company announced today. The co-viewing feature was first introduced during the earlier days of the pandemic in 2020, allowing Hulu users to watch shows together from different locations, as well as chat and react to what they’re watching in a group chat interface on the side of the screen.

Initially, the feature was only made available to Hulu’s “No Ads” subscribers before being tested with Hulu’s ad-supported subscribers in a more limited capacity. To celebrate the Season 2 premiere of Hulu Original “Pen15,” the company had offered the Watch Party experience to its ad-supported customers for 10 days, starting on Sept. 18.

In November, Hulu began testing the Watch Party feature with election news live streams — the first time it had offered co-viewing with its live content.

Today, Hulu says Watch Party is no longer in a “test” phase, and is now officially available to both sets of on-demand customers, including those on its commercial-free and ad-supported plans alike.

At launch, Watch Party works across thousands of on-demand titles from Hulu’s library. This includes not only Hulu’s own original content but also other licensed and broadcast programs like The Golden Girls, This is Us, Family Guy, and The Bachelorette — all of which Hulu said had been popular titles for Watch Party during the testing period.

To use Watch Party, you’ll look for the new Watch Party icon that appears on a title’s detail page on Hulu.com. This will provide a link that you can then share with up to seven other Hulu subscribers, age 18 or older. The experience doesn’t require a browser plugin, but works directly on the Hulu website itself.

As the program plays, users can chat and react with emoji in the group chat window, or even pause the viewing experience if they need to take a quick break. This won’t pause the stream for other viewers, as with some other co-watching experiences — instead, the user can rejoin the group and stay behind others or they can use a “Click to Catch Up” button in the chat window to get back in sync.

Co-watching has been a popular pandemic activity, as people looked for ways to stay connected with friends and family when they couldn’t spend time in person. In addition to Hulu, Amazon Prime Video launched co-viewing and Twitch launched its own Watch Parties. HBO teamed up with Scener, Plex launched Watch Together, and Instagram and Facebook rolled out co-viewing too. Netflix users still have to use third-party tools, however.

#hulu, #media, #movies, #tv, #video, #watch-party

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Hulu UX teardown: 5 user experience fails and how to fix them

Hulu is the first major streaming platform to offer a social watching experience. And with most major league sports now being allowed to resume behind closed doors, Hulu’s combined proposition with ESPN will likely help entertain the service’s 30+ million users over the winter months.

But users have a surplus in choice of streaming services right now, so how will Hulu stay competitive?

With the help of UX expert Peter Ramsey from Built for Mars, we’re going to give Hulu an Extra Crunch UX teardown, demonstrating five ways it could improve its overall user experience. These include easy product comparisons, consistent widths, proportionate progress bars and other suggestions.

Comparing features inside packages

If your product/service has different tiers/versions, ensure that the differences between these options are obvious and easy to compare.

The fail: Hulu has four different packages, but the listed features are inconsistent between options, making it incredibly difficult to compare. Instead of using bullet points, they’ve buried the benefits within paragraphs.

The fix: Break the paragraphs down into bullet points. Then, make sure that the bullet points are worded consistently between options.

 

Steve O’Hear: I’m really surprised this one got past the marketing department. Not a lot to say except that I would argue that when UX, including layout and copywriting decisions, become decoupled from business goals and customer wants, a company is in trouble. Would you agree that’s what has happened here?

Peter Ramsey: Honestly, this happens all the time. I think it’s just a symptom of the designers building things that look nice, not things that work nicely. I probably raise this issue on about one-third of the private audits I do — it’s that common.

Keep a consistent width

Try to maintain a consistent page width throughout a single journey — unless there’s a major benefit to changing the width.

The fail: During the Hulu sign-up process, the page width doubles at a totally unnecessary point. This is disorienting for the user, with no obvious rationale.

The fix: Hulu has a pretty consistent first-half of their journey and then it drops the ball. I’d redesign these “extra-wide” pages to be the default width.

#developer, #entertainment, #hulu, #media, #peter-ramsey, #streaming-services, #tc, #usability, #user-experience, #ux, #video

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Hulu raises Live TV price to $65, matching YouTube TV’s latest price hike

Photo illustration of a remote control in front of a television screen displaying Hulu TV content.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Imagers | Chesnot )

Hulu is raising the monthly price of its live-TV streaming package from $54.99 to $64.99 starting on December 18, continuing a string of price hikes by online video services that offer an alternative to cable and satellite TV. The increase will apply to existing and new subscribers.

Hulu + Live TV debuted at $40 a month in mid-2017 but was up to $54.99 a month by December 2019. The new $64.99 monthly price is for the package with over 65 live channels plus access to Hulu’s ad-supported library of on-demand shows and movies.

Hulu also offers a Live TV plan with ad-free access to the streaming library. The price of this package will increase from $60.99 to $70.99 a month. There’s also a Live TV plan without Hulu’s streaming library, which is rising from $53.99 to $63.99.

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#biz-it, #hulu, #online-streaming

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Hulu will increase the price of its live TV service again on December 18th

It’s price hike season!

Just a few weeks after Netflix bumped up prices on a bunch of its plans, it looks like Hulu will soon be charging more for its Live TV service.

The company has confirmed to us that it will be bumping the monthly cost of Hulu + Live from $54.99 to $64.99 as of December 18th — an increase of around 18%. The price increase will go into effect for both existing and new subscribers. The “No Ads” live TV plan, meanwhile, will increase from $60.99 per month to $70.99 per month.

To be clear, this price increase seemingly only impacts the plans that include live TV; there’s no word, currently, on any price changes for Hulu’s on-demand streaming offerings.

Hulu + Live originally launched in May of 2017, initially costing $40 per month.

#hulu, #tc

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Narf! Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in first trailer for Animaniacs reboot

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in Hulu’s reboot of the classic Animaniacs cartoon.

Readers of a certain age will have fond childhood memories of weekday afternoons spent in the company of the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the central figures of the hugely popular, Emmy-award winning animated series, Animaniacs. Now a whole new generation can appreciate their comic genius with Hulu’s revival of the show, slated to debut next month.

The premise of the original Animaniacs was that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were characters from the 1930s who were locked way in a water tower on the Warner Bros. lot until they escaped in the 1990s. Now they exist to wreak havoc and have fun. The format borrowed heavily from sketch comedy, with each episode typically featuring three short mini-episodes centered on different characters, connected by bridging segments. Other regular characters included two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky and the Brain, who are always trying to take over the world; Ralph the Security Guard; Slappy Squirrel and her nephew, Skippy; Chicken Boo; Flavio and Marita, aka the Hip Hippos; studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse (also a common catchphrase); and a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers.

As appealing to adults as to kids, the show was smart, funny, irreverent, and even educational, especially with its playful songs listing the nations of the world, for instance, or all the US states and their capitals—set to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”—or all the presidents set to the “William Tell Overture.” (My personal favorite was “The Solar System Song,” complete with the obligatory joke about Uranus.) The writers were masters of parody, so much so that it became something of a badge of honor to be so featured. Honorees included A Hard Day’s Night, Seinfeld, Friends, Bambi, Power Rangers, Rugrats, and The Lion King, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. And of course, the Goodfeathers segments invariably parodied characters from both The Godfather and Goodfellas.

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#animaniacs, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #reboots, #streaming-television

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Netflix finally comes to the Amazon Echo Show

Amazon announced the Echo Show line in 2017, and today, it’s finally gaining access to Netflix. The video service joins Hulu and Prime Video as the only officially supported video streaming apps.6

The news came from Amazon’s yearly Echo event where the company unveiled a series of new products and services including redesigned speakers and updated Alexa capabilities.

Amazon executives spoke on how they have data that shows Echo Show owners love watching content on the small screens. Netflix should make that crowd happy. When Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video is viewed on the just-announced Echo Show 10, the unit will swivel on its motorized stand, following the viewer if they move around the room.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-echo, #amazon-echo-show, #amazon-fire-tv, #companies, #e-commerce, #echo-show, #hulu, #netflix, #prime-video, #smart-speakers, #software, #tc

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Two demon-hunting siblings reunite to save the world in Helstrom trailer

Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon star as siblings Daimon and Ana Helstrom in Helstrom, a 10-episode horror series that hits Hulu next month.

An ethics professor and secret demon hunter reunites with his estranged sister to take on a powerful demonic entity in the trailer for Helstrom, an upcoming horror series based on Marvel Comics characters. The 10-episode series debuts on Hulu next month

Helstrom has a complicated back story. As we reported in 2019, Hulu announced the development of two new Marvel-centric series, Ghost Rider (with Gabriel Luna reprising his role from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Helstrom. The shows were intended to kick off a standalone “Adventure into Fear” franchise that would bring a chilling horror element to the Marvel formula. Ghost Rider soon fell by the wayside, and by December 2019, Marvel Television was shut down. That makes Helstrom the sole survivor of the planned fear-based franchise. Shooting finished in March, right before the coronavirus pandemic caused most Hollywood productions to grind to a halt. Showrunner Paul Zbyszewski’s contract was terminated in April—also due to the pandemic—but he stayed on for postproduction.

The series focuses on two characters from Marvel Comics. First: Daimon Helstrom, the son of Satan, introduced in Ghost Rider #1 (1973). He eventually became a recurring character in The Defenders. The other protagonist is his sister, Satana (Ana in the TV adaptation), who embraces the occult and her paternal heritage while Daimon chooses to defend humanity. Per the official premise: “The world isn’t ready for a Helstrom family reunion. As the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer, Helstrom follows Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon), and their complicated dynamic, as they track down the worst of humanity—each with their own attitude and skills.”

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #marvel-cinematic-universe, #marvel-comics, #marvel-entertainment, #streaming-television, #trailers

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Hulu tests its co-viewing feature ‘Watch Party’ with ad-supported viewers

Hulu was one of the first major streaming services to introduce a “co-viewing” feature that allows friends and family to watch Hulu content together from different locations. The feature, Hulu Watch Party, was initially only available for subscribers on the the ad-free tier of Hulu’s streaming service. Now, the company is making Watch Party available to ad-supported subscribers as well, but in a more limited capacity.

When Hulu Watch Party launched in May, it worked across thousands of movies and TV shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library. As Hulu explained at the time, if a show is available for co-viewing, it will indicate this with a “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. Users can then provide the co-viewing link to those they want to watch together with. Currently, a Watch Party session supports up to 8 people.

What makes Hulu’s implementation different from those seen on rival services is that viewers can control their own Watch Party experience. If someone wants to grab a snack or needs a bathroom break, for example, they can pause playback. But doing so doesn’t impact the group’s shared stream. Then, when they return, the viewer can either watch what they missed or tap a “Catch Up” button to get back in sync with the group.

Hulu says since the product debuted, viewers have used Watch Party to host movie nights and watch new series premieres. “Palm Springs,” “Parasite,” and “Love, Victor” were among the top titles that were co-viewed to date.

Now, Hulu wants to bring the feature to ad-supported viewers.

Image Credits: Hulu

The company is testing co-watching on “Pen15,” whose season 2 premieres on Friday, Sept. 18.

Over the next 10 days, Hulu subscribers on both the ad-supported and ad-free plans will be able to join Watch Parties for this particular program.

Hulu is also trying out a branded experience within Watch Party for this particular test.

In a nod to the show, the Watch Party interface will be designed to resemble a classic instant messenger chat room, and will include screen names taken from the series. This design will only display when Watch Party is used to stream “Pen15,” not other shows. It’s an interesting example of how Watch Party could help to build out more of a fan community around a show by theming the chat interface in a unique way for viewers.

Users today have to be 18 and up to use Watch Party, Hulu says. Support for co-viewing of “Pen15” across Hulu’s tiers is live as of Wednesday and will continue for 10 days from that date.

The company is now one of several to either officially support co-viewing or at least endorse it.

Amazon’s Twitch launched Watch Parties for Amazon Prime Video following by a built-in feature on Prime Video itself. Plex added Watch Together in May, and HBO teamed up with Scener for co-viewing experiences. Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, while HouseParty debuted co-watching of events in May. More recently, Instagram Messenger and Messenger Rooms added the ability to co-view Facebook Watch content.

#co-watching, #hulu, #media, #streaming-service, #watch-party

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Cities sue Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, claim they owe cable “franchise fees”

A person's hand holding a remote control in front of a TV screen with a Netflix logo.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Four cities in Indiana are suing Netflix and other video companies, claiming that online video providers and satellite-TV operators should have to pay the same franchise fees that cable companies pay for using local rights of way.

The lawsuit was filed against Netflix, Disney, Hulu, DirecTV, and Dish Network on August 4 in Indiana Commercial Court in Marion County. The cities of Indianapolis, Evansville, Valparaiso, and Fishers want the companies to pay the cable-franchise fees established in Indiana’s Video Service Franchises (VSF) Act, which requires payments of 5 percent of gross revenue in each city.

The lawsuit is based on an unusual legal argument and doesn’t seem likely to succeed. Essentially, the cities are claiming that Netflix and similar providers use the public rights of way simply by offering video streaming services over the Internet:

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#cable-franchise-fees, #directv, #dish, #disney, #hulu, #netflix, #policy

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Verizon adds free Hulu and ESPN+ to some unlimited wireless plans

Verizon and Disney announced this morning that they’re extending and expanding a partnership that gives some Verizon Wireless subscribers access to Disney’s streaming services at no addition charge.

The companies announced last fall that Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) would be offering free Disney+ to unlimited wireless customers, and on an earnings call in February, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Iger said that around 20% of Disney+ subscribers came from Verizon.

More recently, the entertainment giant said that Disney+ had more than 60.5 million subscribers as of August 3. In comparison, Hulu had 35.5 million subscribers at the end of its most recent quarter (June 26), while ESPN+ had 8.5 million subscribers.

With today’s announcement, subscribers to Verizon’s Play More and Get More Unlimited wireless plans will get free access to not just Disney+, but also Hulu and ESPN+. (Plus, Apple Music.) Disney normally charges $12.99 when these three streaming services are purchased together as The Disney Bundle.

“The addition of The Disney Bundle to our agreement with Verizon reinforces our commitment to providing their subscribers with access to high-quality entertainment from Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+,” said Disney’s executive vice president of platform distribution Sean Breen in a statement. “We are always looking for the most advantageous ways for consumers to experience our content and we are pleased to work with Verizon so that they can provide their customers with these appealing new offers.”

 

#disney, #entertainment, #espn, #hulu, #media, #tc, #the-walt-disney-company, #verizon

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Disney+ grows to more than 60.5M subscribers

Disney+ had more than 60.5 million paying subscribers as of yesterday, according to The Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Chapek.

Chapek shared the number during a call to discuss the company’s latest earnings report, which covered the company’s most recent quarter ending on June 27. He was essentially offering an update on the 57.5 million paid subscriber figure included in the report, and he said the growth is “far exceeding our initial projections for the service.”

Disney+ launched in November of last year. The company previously announced in April that the service had passed 50 million subscribers. (Those numbers include subscribers acquired through bundling with Hotstar in India, as well as free subscribers through a promotion with TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon.)

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated growth for some streaming services. Most notably, Netflix added more than 10 million new subscribers in its most recent quarter, bringing its global total to nearly 193 million. As for Disney’s other streaming services, ESPN+ has grown more than 100% year-over-year to 8.5 million subscribers (as of June 26), while Hulu grew 27% to 35.5 million subscribers (3.4 million of them are paying for both video on demand and live TV).

And Disney+ may have gotten an additional bump, thanks to the release of “Hamilton” over the July 4 weekend.

Overall, Disney said revenue for its direct-to-consumer and international division increased 2% year-over-year, to $4.0 billion, while the unit’s operating loss grew from $562 million to $706 million.

Still, streaming likely counts as a relative bright spot compared to many of Disney’s other businesses that have either slowed or paused entirely due to the pandemic. (Parks are gradually reopening, for example.) The company’s total revenue fell 42% YOY to $11.8 billion, and earnings per share for the quarter showed a loss of $2.61.

Update: During the call, Chapek also announced that “Mulan” will be released on Disney+ on September 4, as a “premiere access” title that costs an additional $29.99.

#disney, #disney-plus, #entertainment, #espn, #hulu, #media, #the-walt-disney-company

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Review: Palm Springs is a fresh, slyly self-aware addition to time loop trope

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti relive the same day over and over in Palm Springs, now streaming on Hulu.

Last year gave us two innovative multiverse twists on the well-worn time-loop trope: the Netflix comedy series Russian Doll, and the horror/comedy Happy Death Day 2 U (a sequel to 2018’s Happy Death Day). One would think there wouldn’t be many new veins to mine in this subgenre, but Palm Springs rises to the challenge, delivering a slyly subversive, charmingly self-aware time loop tale that toys with audience expectations in subtly surprising ways.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Screenwriter Andy Siara (Lodge 49) wrote a draft of the script while still a student at the American Film Institute, although there were no science-fiction-y time loop elements in that version. He has said he was inspired more by Leaving Las Vegas than Groundhog Day. Eventually he reworked the script with the help of Director Max Barbakow (Palm Springs is Barbakow’s directorial debut), and Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) signed on to star in the film. The film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival (pre-coronavirus), and sparked a bidding war for distribution rights. Neon and Hulu ultimately shelled out a purported $17.5 million for those rights—the biggest deal yet in Sundance’s history.

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#entertainment, #film, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #palm-springs, #time-loops

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Hulu announces a new offer-focused ad format called GatewayGo

Hulu is unveiling a new ad unit today, which it’s calling GatewayGo. The idea is to give viewers a way to directly interact with the advertisers and receive personalized offers.

This makes good on Hulu’s statement at the beginning of the year that it would be rolling out ads that are more transactional — so viewers can act an on ad right away, and advertisers get a concrete measurement of an ad’s impact.

When someone sees a GatewayGo ad, it will include an option to receive more information or offers delivered to their phone or tablet via push notification, email or QR code. Initial advertisers include SmileDirectClub, The RealReal and Sweetgreen.

The announcement is coming at Hulu’s virtual NewFronts presentation for advertisers. The Disney-owned streaming service is pitching this as an extension of an ad strategy that tries to find new viewer-friendly ways to advertise, for example with ads designed specifically for pausing or brand-sponsored, ad-free “binge watch” episodes.

“For our brand partners, the power of this ad experience lies in its ability to give viewers a simple way to engage with brands and take action on their mobile device,” said Laura Nelson, senior vice president for cross portfolio solutions at Disney Advertising Sales, in a statement. “Ultimately, this helps advertisers get closer to their conversion goals with Streaming TV.”

Hulu says it will also be integrating with Nielsen Media Impact to help advertisers measure the reach of their campaigns, and that it plans to launch something called Disney Hulu XP on October, which will give advertisers a way to buy video campaigns across Disney properties.

And Hulu is using the presentation to highlight early data from a behavioral study of a streaming audiences. It says streaming audiences tend to be younger, more affluent and more likely to be college educated than an average audience. It also says streaming audiences divide into streaming only (37%), streaming most (47%) and streaming also (16%) — and that three-quarters of streaming audiences want some degree of personalization from advertisers.

#advertising-tech, #hulu, #media, #the-walt-disney-co

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Hulu has a new Formula E documentary, and it’s great

Nelson Piquet Jr is one of the drivers featured in a new documentary about Formula E.

Enlarge / Nelson Piquet Jr is one of the drivers featured in a new documentary about Formula E. (credit: Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E)

You might think a film about the world of Formula E racing would focus on the electric car technology being battle-tested by the sport. But And We Go Greena new documentary now streaming on Hulu—is a much more emotional story about the sport. It takes about two and a half minutes for someone to drop the first F-bomb. We’re in Hong Kong, and the electric racing cars of Formula E are lined up and waiting for the signal that starts the race. The only problem: those lights aren’t working, and series boss Alejandro Agag wants to know “who the fuck is responsible” for messing up. That should make it clear that this is an unvarnished look at the sport.

The film follows this upstart race series as it goes about its fourth season, and more particularly some of the intense, sometimes long-standing rivalries within it. And I bring up the profanity—which starts with Agag but continues aplenty from everyone else—because so often that kind of thing is smoothed over by anodyne corporate messaging. But Formula E has always been a little more freewheeling than a series like Formula 1.

Unvarnished doesn’t mean unpolished, though. And We Go Green is as much of a visual feast as any recent motorsports documentary, and if you think you detect the influence of legendary Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), good guess.

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#and-we-go-green, #cars, #film-review, #fisher-stevens, #formula-e, #gaming-culture, #hulu

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Hulu scraps support for older Roku devices

The 2017 Roku Ultra, which will still be supported by the latest Hulu app.

Enlarge / The 2017 Roku Ultra, which will still be supported by the latest Hulu app. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Several older Roku devices will lose access to the latest Hulu app on June 24, 2020, the subscription-based streaming service has announced with an update to its support pages. Users of the affected devices will see messages like “Hulu is no longer supported on this device,” or simply “your user session has expired,” according to Hulu documentation.

Affected devices include Roku Streaming Stick models 3420 or earlier, as well as Roku Streaming Player models 2400 to 3100. Roku device owners can navigate to the About panel under Settings within the Roku interface to determine which model they have.

The sticks and players were already limited to using the “classic” Hulu app instead of the modern one. The classic app has a number of limitations—most notably the lack of live TV support. However, with this change, it appears that users of these models will not be able to access Hulu in any form after the end-of-support date.

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#hulu, #roku, #streaming, #streaming-box, #streaming-dongle, #tech, #tv

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Hulu launches a new Watch Party feature for virtual viewing parties and chat

Hulu today is introducing a new feature called “Hulu Watch Party,” its first social feature that will allow viewers to virtually watch Hulu together at the same time while in separate locations and chat with one another within the Hulu app. The feature is being tested first on Hulu.com for Hulu’s “No Ads” subscribers for the time being.

It will work with thousands of movies and shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library, the company says.

To see which programs are available for this Watch Party viewing experience, users will look for a new “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. They will then be given a link to invite their family and friends to join their Watch Party session, which can support up to 8 people in total.

While watching, users can chat with one another in real-time through a built-in chat function.

Plus, users will be able to control their own playback of the title without impacting the group’s experience — in other words, it’s not the same sort of shared stream experience as some similar services offer. But this way, users suffering from a poor connection or those in need of a bathroom break can rejoin the group when they’re ready. A handy “Click to Catch Up” button in the chat window will get them back in sync, if desired.

Viewers must be 18 or older to start or join Watch Party sessions, Hulu says.

The addition of the social feature comes following a surge of interest in apps and extensions that enable virtual watch parties for streaming services amid the pandemic. One browser plugin, Netflix Party, even went viral as U.S. consumers were forced to shelter-in-place during coronavirus lockdowns. HBO, meanwhile, recently partnered with browser extension Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience that supports up to 20 people.

But unlike the existing options, Hulu’s Watch Party doesn’t require a browser plugin or extension of any kind. Instead, the feature works within Hulu’s website itself on both Mac and PC computers.

This makes Hulu the first major streamer to offer a co-watching experience directly on its site.

However, other video apps have experimented with co-watching before today. Streamer Philo once toyed with the idea, but the feature never made it out of testing. YouTube tested a co-watching app Uptime a few years ago. Korean and Chinese Drama app Viki, which is offered in the U.S., currently offers a (very amusing) real-time commenting section that allows for a group chat experience. And Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, too. 

Plex is also today launching its own Watch Together feature to enable co-viewing.

Hulu Watch Party is live starting today on Hulu.com.

 

#hulu, #media, #social, #streaming-service, #tc, #watch-party

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Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max? The best streaming service for your watching habits

Gone are the days of not having enough time to catch up on all of those movies and TV shows you’ve been meaning to get around to. For the foreseeable future, at least, many of us have nowhere to go and nothing but time on our hands.

We’ve already offered a few suggestions for ways to spend your newfound downtime, but there’s a more pragmatic question at hand. With this week’s arrival of HBO Max, an overcrowded streaming market becomes even more competitive, particularly here in the United States.  Gone are the days of Netflix’s streaming supremacy (at least from a content perspective). There’s a streaming service for virtually every need and nearly every one is best at something (with the possible exception of Apple TV+, with its fairly sparse selection, and whatever is going on with Quibi).

In a perfect world, we would all be able to subscribe to every service and never have to leave the house again. But those $5-$15/month fees add up pretty quickly when you’re not looking. For most of us, choosing the right service or service requires a bit of strategic spending. As such, we’re going to make life a bit easier on you and your wallet by designating the top services across 10 key categories.

Again, this is a U.S.-focused list, since that’s where we’re based. But many of these services are available outside the States, or will be in the next year or two.

The best service for … Prestige TV

Winner: HBO Max

The debate about the best TV show of all time always seems to wind up on HBO. The premium cable network has transformed expectations around what television can and should do, with shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” regularly cited at the top of the list of all-time greats. And then there’s “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones,” newcomers like “Succession” and top-tier comedy like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Eastbound and Down” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not every series has been a slam-dunk, but as far as prestige episodic television is concerned, you’re not going to do any better than HBO. (B.H.)

The best service for … Blockbusters

Winner: Disney+

Disney has dominated the theatrical box office for the past decade, thanks to its acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm/Star Wars — not to mention the continued popularity of its animated films and live-action remakes. Disney+ is where you can catch up with almost all those big-budget hits, and it will be the streaming home for future Marvel blockbusters. (A.H.)

The best service for … Classics

Winner: Criterion Channel/HBO Max

While Criterion’s reputation can seem forbiddingly arty (see below) — of course, some art films are stone cold movie classics — the service also offers plenty of classic Hollywood titles, like a recent retrospective showcasing Columbia noir. If you’re a kaiju fan, it also has nearly every old-schoool Godzilla movie in its library. That said, it isn’t the only place you can find classic titles. HBO Max, in particular, is the streaming home to Turner Classic Movies, with some of the best films of all time, including “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” It also has a deal to offer some Criterion titles, too. (A.H.)

The best service for … Documentaries

Winner: HBO Max/CuriosityStream

As with its drama and comedy series, there’s really no one out there who can touch HBO’s documentary output. The network has consistently racked up Emmy wins since the late ’90s. It’s had some added competition from Netflix in recent years, but HBO continues to deliver, including last year’s heart-wrenching ‘Leaving Neverland.’ If you like your documentaries served with a side of more documentaries, however, there’s always CuriosityStream. $20/year will get you a boatload of original docs, broken down by category. (B.H.)

The best service for … Kids

Winner: Disney+

All the big streaming services have a selection of movies and shows for kids, but it’s hard to beat the titles in Disney’s library — all their animated classics, plus Pixar, plus Disney Channel hits like “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” HBO Max is a strong runner-up with Sesame Street and the full Studio Ghibli library, but if your kid wants to sing along to “Frozen” over and over again, this is where they can do it. (A.H.)

The best service for … Indies

Winner: Hulu/Criterion Channel

Most streaming services (save for Apple TV+ and Disney+) have a pretty sizable selection of indies. The quality of the films varies greatly from service to service and film to film, but nearly all of them have some hidden gems for when you’re looking to spend a bit of time outside of the studio system. As far as the mainstream ones go, I was surprised to discover during this quarantine that Hulu has the best selections of the bunch, courtesy of deals with top notch indie distributors. If you want a straight shot of the stuff, however, the Criterion Channel is your best bet — and the supplementary content is unmatched by other services. (B.H.)

The best service for … Free stuff

Winner: Tubi/Vudu

To be honest, I had no idea Tubi existed until recently. I was searching for a Korean movie about a baseball playing gorilla (it’s real, seriously), and landed on the site, where it was streaming for free with ad breaks. You would probably end up banging your head against the wall if you relied on Tubi as your sole streaming service, but its selection is surprisingly solid. There are genuinely good films in there, in amongst the dregs. There are also plenty of dregs there, if that’s your thing. Also check out Walmart’s Vudu. In addition to your standard rentals, the service also has a decent selection of free films. (B.H.)

The best service for … Star Trek

Winner: CBS All Access

It might seem silly to build an entire streaming service around a single entertainment franchise, but a) Have you met Star Trek fans? And b) That was clearly the strategy behind CBS All Access, which has already released two Trek spinoffs, “Discovery” and “Picard.” Although the newly remerged ViacomCBS seems to have broader streaming plans, Star Trek still seems like a centerpiece of that strategy, with a whole bunch of new Trek content being developed under the supervision of Alex Kurtzman. (That said, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are sufficient if you just want to rewatch The Original Series or The Next Generation.) (A.H.)

The best service for … Arthouse

Winner: Criterion Channel

Been missing trips to the local arthouse theater? With places like the Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the Moving Image and Angelika temporarily shut down here in New York, I’ve been finding some respite in the Criterion Collection’s truly excellent curated selection of films. While it’s true that sometimes the best thing for the pandemic is a little mindless movie watching, if you want to take in some culture without leaving the house, Criterion’s got you covered. (B.H.)

The best service for … a lot of everything

Winner: Netflix

You may be wondering why we’ve barely mentioned the streaming world’s biggest player. That’s because Netflix isn’t actually the best in any one category — at least in our view. Instead, it’s pretty good in a whole bunch of categories, whether that’s older TV shows, classic films, original series like “The Crown” and “Stranger Things,” reality hits like “Tiger King” and original movies like “The Irishman.” So if you want a single service that scratches a whole bunch of different itches, Netflix is still your best bet. (A.H.)

#amazon-video, #apple-tv, #cbs-all-access, #disney, #entertainment, #hbo-max, #hulu, #media, #netflix, #tc

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Hulu’s biggest redesign in years offers a more standardized experience, improved navigation and discovery

Hulu today will begin rolling out its largest redesign in years. The company is moving towards a more standardized, even Netflix-like user interface featuring collections laid out vertically within the Home screen, while tiles within the collections are laid out horizontally, in scrollable rows. However, the end result is not a Netflix clone, as Hulu continues to make use of its editorial imagery to highlight select titles and now uses a variety of tile sizes to communicate information about the content it recommends.

Hulu will also simplify its top-level navigation, moving categories like “TV,” “Movies,” and “Sports” to the top of the screen, to make it easier for users to drill down into the type of content they watch.

These changes follow Hulu’s first big redesign in 2017 which arrived alongside the launch of Hulu’s Live TV experience. Though that update did help to differentiate Hulu from other streaming services, it also overcomplicated the user interface. Hulu’s customer feedback forums were filled with complaints about the interface being too difficult to navigate and the confusing layout.

To some extent, today’s changes are an acknowledgment on Hulu’s part that its interface had room for improvement. They’re also meant to make it easier for viewers who move between other Disney-owned services, like Disney+ or ESPN+, the company says.

“When we launched the current experience three years or so ago, it was a pretty radical change,” admits Jason Wong, Hulu’s Director of Product Management. “I think a standard has emerged as people have adopted streaming — it’s evident, and not just within the Disney family,” he continues. “We know that the majority of users have between three to five different services, and I think all of them employ this orientation on the living rooms devices.”

Though a desire for more uniformity with the other Disney streaming service was part of the consideration for the changes, Hulu says the overall redesign has been in the works for a year and a half — well before Disney acquired Fox and took operational control of Hulu.

The redesigned user interface combines what works on other streaming services with Hulu’s own unique features.

For instance, Hulu now organizes content into familiar, scrollable horizontal rows, but it continues to showcase its standout titles with bold, cinematic imagery, along with title art, color sampling, and a gradient in larger tiles — much as it did before. However, in the new interface, not all of Hulu’s content gets thrown into this large template. (Seen below).

Instead, the large templates will be used to pull in users to start watching new content — like Hulu’s originals or other shows that are popular on the service. Meanwhile, more familiar content — like shows you’re currently watching or those in your “My Stuff” — may not be displayed in the same way.

As you scroll down through the revamped Hulu Home screen, you’ll notice the content is broken up by a variety of differently-sized tiles. In addition to the large, masthead template, there are other larger templates appearing throughout the experience as well as medium and smaller, standard templates. This design encourages users to pause their scroll and consider the highlighted titles, as opposed to getting lost in a sea of titles.

In addition, Hulu is turning its recommendation engine on the selection of the collections and tiles. Every module on the screen can be powered by either editorial curation or algorithms, or some combination of both.

At the top of the Home screen, collections like “Movies for You” or “TV for You” will appear for all users, but as you continue to scroll down, suggested collections will become more personalized to people’s unique interests. While Hulu isn’t being as explicit as Netflix with its “Because You Watched X” collections, it is powering its suggestions based on what content the user has been engaging with.

For example, in a row of Sci-Fi Movie recommendations for someone who regularly watched that genre, it may remove the movies you had already watched or gave a thumbs down to from its row of suggestions. It may also remove those from a subgenre you never watched, like Sci-Fi/Horror, while promoting those from another subgenre you watch more often.

Hulu’s editors will also have the ability to rank certain titles first (or within a range), for those times when they want to better highlight a title — like a new release that serves as a tentpole to a genre.

The end result is a row of suggestions personalized and ranked based on your individual tastes, but one that also benefits from human curation.

According to Jim Denney, Hulu VP and Head of Product Management, the user interface redesign will not only help users to better navigate the streaming service, it will also improve discovery.

“One of the things [we wanted to improve on] is around density — giving people enough of a view into Hulu’s catalog. We’ve got one of the largest catalogs of any service available,” Denney explains. Plus, he noted, “When we look at our current [user interface], there are several ways to achieve the same thing. We want to close some of those gaps so it becomes more obvious which path to follow so users don’t get lost.”

These changes speak directly to the user complaints from years’ past, and lay the groundwork for more improvements over time.

Further down the road, Hulu plans to turn its recommendation engine not only on the titles it suggests but on the presentation of those titles to the individual user, too. That means choosing which titles appear in larger or smaller modules, for example, or how and when those modules appear. A new user, for example, might see more of the larger tiles highlighting top Hulu shows compared with how may an existing user would see. Hulu expects to roll this out sometime in 2021.

The new Hulu interface will roll out this week, initially on tvOS and Roku first. In July, it will expand to other platforms and a larger group of users.

#design, #disney, #hulu, #media, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Hulu interruption impacted small number of users, now resolved

Some Hulu customers found that the video streaming service was no longer working on their Apple devices, beginning in the early morning hours on Tuesday. According to tweets and other social media posts from customers, as well as from websites like DownDetector, Hulu began experiencing issues in the early AM Pacific Time in the U.S., with a larger spike occurring around 5 AM PT.

Hulu confirmed with TechCrunch the issues only impacted a small percentage of its user base on Apple devices like Apple TV and iPhone. It says the issue has been resolved.

The company’s customer service Twitter account has also been replying to individual users to note that Hulu’s developers have put in changes to mitigate the service interruption and users who had issues should also reboot their devices to begin streaming.

Despite what appears to be a limited outage, losing access to video streaming during the coronavirus quarantine caused a number of users to immediately turn to Twitter to post their complaints. In fact, the hashtag #HuluDown is even still trending as of the time of writing.

But even though video services are facing record usage due to the large numbers of stay-at-home users under quarantine and government lockdowns, Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video and others haven’t seen long-term outages during these past few weeks — something that speaks to the relative stability of their services. There have been a few issues here and there of course — Netflix went down for an hour, or Twitch saw crashes, for example. And now this brief blip from Hulu.

DownDetector only showed some ~3,400 incident reports, and the Twitter hashtag has accumulated just over 3,000 tweets before the problems were resolved.

#entertainment, #hulu, #tc

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Original Content podcast: ‘Devs’ asks unsettling questions about free will

We discussed our initial impressions of “Devs” on an episode of the Original Content podcast a few weeks ago, shortly after the show launched on FX/Hulu. At the time, we observed that even the show made time for bits of Silicon Valley satire, the mood was mostly one of mystery and dread.

Now that we know the full story, it seemed like a good time to revisit our discussion. If anything, the dread increases over the course of the show’s first and only season, becoming oppressive and overwhelming as writer-director Alex Garland lays out the full implications of a mysterious quantum computing project known as Devs.

Our reactions to the story’s heady philosophical atmosphere varied — Jordan found the whole thing a bit ponderous, while Anthony and Darrell were completely happy to follow Garland into arguments about determinism versus free will, and to debate the implications of the show’s final episode.

At the very least, we all agreed that there’s nothing on television quite like it. Plus, the show features strong performances from Nick Offerman as a tormented tech CEO and Alison Pill as the Devs project’s steely leader.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:18 “Devs” full season review
7:25 “Devs” spoiler discussion

#devs, #entertainment, #hulu, #media, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Disney+ surpasses 50 million subscribers in just 5 months

Screenshot from Trailer for upcoming series The Mandalorian.

Enlarge / Pedro Pascal as The Mandalorian on Disney+. (credit: YouTube/Star Wars/Disney)

This week, Disney announced a new milestone for its Disney+ streaming video service: 50 million subscribers just five months after the service’s initial launch.

That seems to be many more subscribers than Disney’s own Hulu service, which as of the end of last year clocked in at just over 30 million, and three times the combined subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime as of January—though none of those services are available in as many countries and regions as Disney+. You might compare Disney+ instead with the more global Netflix, which has 167 million subscribers.

Still, Netflix has been building that subscriber base over many years. Disney has reached 50 million in just a few months. In February, Disney reported 29 million, so those subscribers have nearly doubled in just a few short months. The service may have gotten a boost from users who are consuming more home entertainment amid shelter-in-place orders right now—and that might suggest that the above numbers from a few months ago for CBS, Netflix, and Hulu might be notably behind current figures.

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#disney, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #netflix, #streaming, #tech, #tv

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In response to COVID-19, Hulu adds a free live news stream to its on-demand app

In response to the COVID-10 outbreak, Hulu is adding a free, live news stream to its app for customers who only subscribe to its on-demand service, not its live TV add-on. The news coverage is provided in partnership with ABC News Live, and brings live news 24/7 to Hulu on-demand subscribers as part of their existing subscription.

This includes those who pay for Hulu alone as well as those who pay for the newer Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle subscription, the company noted. And it will be available to both tiers of Hulu’s on-demand service, including the ad-supported and Hulu’s No Ads plan.

The live stream will also be featured in the “Hulu Picks” section for easy access and will be available across living room and mobile devices, as well as popular game consoles.

Hulu Live TV customers, meanwhile, already have a number of live TV news channels they can watch as a part of their subscription. But Hulu’s on-demand service is far larger, with 27.2 million paid subscribers, compared with just 3.2 million for Live TV.

Health organizations and political leaders have urged Americans to get their news from trusted sources during the COVID-19 crisis — not from social media, where misinformation spreads more quickly than tech companies can moderate or remove. (When and if they try to do so.)

Meanwhile, the uncertainty around the coronavirus outbreak has led to a significant number of online rumors, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and snake oil cures. Earlier this week, for example, a fake news report of a national quarantine spread so quickly that the National Security Council had to post a statement to assure Americans the news was untrue.

The addition of live news for Hulu arrives at a time when a growing number of U.S. consumers have cut the cord with traditional pay TV or chose to never sign up in the first place. In Hulu’s case, the company says close to half its customers fall into one of those two buckets.

“More than 45 percent of Hulu viewers have either cut the cord or never had cable, and may not have access to live, televised news to receive critical information during times of national crisis,” the company said, in an announcement. “With this live stream, we aim to keep our viewers informed during this unprecedented time when having access to information is vital to our communities,” Hulu said.

In addition, fewer U.S. consumers today subscribe to a daily newspaper than in generations prior. Instead, much of our “TV viewing” is now taking place in on-demand apps like Netflix and Hulu, and our news is gathered in bits and pieces online.

Hulu isn’t the first streaming provider to add free live news to its service as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This week, Sling TV launched free streaming that included live news from ABC News Live, as well.

Of course, you don’t need to be a Hulu subscriber to watch ABC News Live. The news service streams online and through the ABC News app for free. But integration into major streaming apps like Hulu will make the service more accessible and more visible, as it won’t require people to seek out a separate app just to watch.

 

#abc-news-live, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #hulu, #media, #news

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Original Content podcast: ‘Devs’ is a strange and delightful technothriller

Given its name, you might expect “Devs” — which launched earlier this month on the new FX on Hulu — to be a “Silicon Valley”-style sitcom about the tech industry. And there are indeed some delightful moments where “Ex Machina” writer-director Alex Garland pokes fun at San Francisco and tech culture.

But the prevailing mood is one of mystery and dread. The show takes place largely at a fictional quantum computing company called Amaya, run by its brooding CEO Forest (played by Nick Offerman), which employs Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) . Amaya is also home to a division known as Devs — a group that’s mysterious enough that most employees don’t even know what the team is working on.

On the latest installment of the Original Content podcast, TechCrunch Events Director Emma Comeau joins us to discuss the three episodes that have aired thus far.

While it’s too early to evaluate how the show will answer its big questions, we’re all fans, thanks to its eerie visuals, impressive performances (particularly from Offerman and Mizuno) and the tantalizing way that it lays out its mysteries — during the spoiler discussion, we spent most of our time puzzling over clues about the ultimate goal of the Devs team.

And although the show is certainly tense, it’s actually something of a relief to spend a few hours worrying about sinister tech companies, rather everything else happening in the world outside.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
3:26 “Devs” review (mild spoilers)
26:20 “Devs” spoiler review/speculation

#devs, #entertainment, #hulu, #media, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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