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It’s Always Sunny in Hulu-delphia…until it isn’t. The beloved video portal recently yanked virtually the entire three seasons of the FX show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia from its service, prompting users to bomb Twitter with negative feedback. To its credit, Hulu ‘fessed up and said it made a mistake in how it handled the removal, but this situation once again demonstrates how the company is not fully in control of its destiny.
From the Hulu-pology on its blog post:
Despite Hulu’s opinion and position on such content removals (which we share liberally with all of our content partners), these things do happen and will continue to happen on the Hulu service with regards to some television series…
Unfortunately we do not have the permission to keep the specific episodes up on Hulu beyond that. We hope that the additional two weeks of availability will help to address some of the frustration that was felt over the past few days.
The problem is that Hulu doesn’t own the content it shows, so it will always be beholden to someone else. It can build up a massive catalog of content, but that catalog can disappear just as easily. In this case, FX giveth the Sunny in Philadelphia and FX taketh away; Hulu just has to deal with it. Same goes for The Daily Show, Family Guy — even Airwolf.
Sure, Hulu is currently the belle of the online video ball, which means content owners want in, allowing Hulu to leverage that popularity to command better terms for itself. But what if that popularity starts to wane?
In a way, Hulu is a victim of its own success. It’s training people to expect to find the premium content they want online, anytime, especially for older episodes. But that means that when such content gets removed, people will seek it out elsewhere. Meanwhile, new competitors are on the rise, among them CBS’s recently re-launched TV.com, and the network owns some of the content it will show there. And there’s always YouTube, which one day may get its act together in the premium space and command better licensing terms — if it can harness that massive audience.
We still heart Hulu, but this latest move shines some sunlight on why it may not always be around.