Monday, September 25, 2023

The dream is over: Hulu dumping Fox library titles

Deadline reported this over the weekend, but Joe Adalian's excellent newsletter was the first place I saw this: Hulu is letting the licensing deals on many catalog titles expire with no plans to renew them. Among the affected shows are Hill Street Blues and The Bob Newhart Show. St. Elsewhere and The Mary Tyler Moore Show are apparently safe for now.

Adalian confirms this isn't some tax write-off thing, and he also notes that this is intracompany negotiating. I mean, these are 20th Century Fox titles, and Disney owns them and also controls Hulu. Yet there still has to be an exchange of money to stream the titles, and Hulu just decided, nah, we're good.

This is really disheartening not because those particular shows are disappearing--at least those two are still on Prime Video, and maybe they turn up somewhere else, say at Fox-owned Tubi, plus they are at least complete on DVD--but because at one point it looked like Hulu was going to be the streaming hub for classic TV lovers. Netflix stopped (or was denied access to) streaming a ton of Universal and Paramount shows years ago, then Hulu picked up a bunch of great ones, and it looked like, yeah, it's on.

Then it started quietly shedding a lot of its older series, and then most of the Paramount stuff left. Hey, at least there were the Fox shows, which Disney OWNED. And wasn't that at least one tiny rationale of that huge Disney/Fox deal--acquiring library content for Hulu?

Well, nowadays the strategy is to give consumers much less and charge much more, and it looks like now we are going to the phase of jettisoning stuff that is in theory easy to license. Take away the big catalog from Hulu, and what do you have? The FX portion is significant, but it's starting to look a lot less distinguishable from Disney Plus, which is probably not a coincidence. It looks like Disney is blurring the lines between the two services, possibly as a hedge or strategy as it negotiates with Comcast for full control of the service.

Here is the problem as I see it: They are charging money for Hulu, and they are bundling it with D+ and ESPN+ in a way that makes it look like a distinct and valuable property. Yet the value of Hulu keeps going down. It also disheartens that this latest catalog dump indicates that going forward, there is no hope. So much for wishing for Hulu to add MORE Fox shows or even re-adding ones it used to have. Forget about making big deals for other classic shows. Will Moonlighting, rumored to be coming on streaming eventually, still have a home here? Who knows? It won't be alongside good ol' Bob Hartley, though.

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