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Customer Trust is Hard Won, Easily Lost

January 13th, 2009 by Jason Kilar CEO

On January 9, we removed nearly 3 seasons of full episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We did this at the request of the content owner. 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. As power users of Hulu have seen, we’ve added a large amount of content to the library each month, and every once in a while we are required to remove some content as well.

This blog post, however, is not about the fact that episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia were taken down. Rather, this blog post is to communicate to our users that we screwed up royally with regards to how we handled this specific content removal and to apologize for our lack of strong execution. We gave effectively no notice to our users that these Sunny episodes would be coming off the service. We handled this in precisely the opposite way that we should have. We believe that our users deserve the decency of a reasonable warning before content is taken down from the Hulu service. Please accept our apologies.

Given the very reasonable user feedback that we have received on this topic (we read every twitter, email and post), we have just re-posted all of the episodes that we had previously removed. I’d like to point out to our users that the content owner in this case — FX Networks — was very quick to say yes to our request to give users reasonable advance notice here, despite the fact that it was the Hulu team that dropped the ball. We have re-posted all of the episodes in the interest of giving people advance notice before the episodes will be taken down two weeks from today. The episodes will be taken down on January 25, 2009. 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 team at Hulu is doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons on this one, but it’s not easy given how poorly we executed here. Please know that we will do our best to learn from this mistake such that the Hulu user experience benefits in other ways down the road.

Sincerely,

Jason Kilar ()
CEO, Hulu

Last comment: about 9 hours ago 32 Comments
  • tom says:

    No warning for removing season 1 of touch watched 5 ep before bed woke up to no chance of ep 6. It’s dumbfounding that they think this helps there image as we speak I’m torrent-ing both se1 and se2 with no commercials good going hulu/fox or whomever your going to place blame Your doing a great job running a business, before you know it everyone will soon turn to torrents especially when utorrent perfects their streaming ability whose excuse isn’t “sorry it’s not avail anymore but feel free to watch some of our other great shows.” no thank you and your lame excuse it really boils down to the fact that hulu just doesn’t give a f**k about customers just their vendors

  • [...] users with “the decency of a reasonable warning before the content is taken down.” The Hulu blog entry was titled: “Customer Trust Is Hard Won, Easily Lost.” Props to [...]

  • Renie says:

    you guys removed almost all previous seasons and episodes of almost every show! without notice. i tried watching shows on other websites but they charge you. Whats the point of paying a monthly amount to Hulu when theres nothing to watch??? will you be adding the seasons again? Grimm, Pretty Little Liars, Revenge, Once upon a time, switched at birth…etc. I can go and on about every show and the seasons that were removed. I am sincerely dissapointed that we were not given a notice. Will they be added again? thats all i want to know before i remove my membership. For shame Hulu!!!!

  • Hi Nitin,

    I’m sorry that the first season of Grimm unexpectedly expired from our site, and I completely understand your frustration. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to take down content on short notice. We work really hard to keep you informed about when content is going to expire, but in some cases, legal issues or conflicting contractual obligations arise and we end up letting you down. Our apologies on this one. We’ll do everything we can to make this the exception.

    Thanks, Alexa, Hulu Support

  • Nitin Pandit says:

    What kind of an apology is your article, Jason? Just as of today, you removed Season 1 of Grimm with no warning whatsoever. Looks like Hulu has not gotten out of their bad habits yet after all.

  • NEX-5 says:

    Ada beberapa poin yang menarik dalam waktu dalam artikel ini, tetapi saya tidak tahu apakah aku melihat mereka semua pusat ke jantung. Ada benarnya, tapi saya akan mengambil pendapat terus sampai saya melihat lebih jauh. Baik artikel, terima kasih dan kami ingin lebih! Ditambahkan ke Feedburner juga

  • [...] how exceptionally well Hulu responded to the uproar and handled their obvious mistake. Here’s the letter Jason Kilar wrote to the community: On January 9, we removed nearly 3 seasons of full episodes of ”It’s [...]

  • Mitur Binesderti says:

    Thank you for your wonderful response to this.

    It’s a shame though because I refuse to deal with FX when they do stuff like this so I am boycotting the show and will only download bittorrents until they wake up.

    Another perfect example is the show “The Big Bang” I can’t watch it online so I download it. How does that help them? Often I can even get it off the torrent sites BEFORE it’s aired! Again, how does that help them sell advertising?

    If it were here I would have no problem watching commercials but if they leave me zero alternative then I’m GOING to get it from a torrent site.

  • [...] were in an uproar. Days later Hulu CEO Jason Kilar apologized for the event in blog post titled Customer Trust is Hard Won, Easily Lost, during which he admitted “We handled this in precisely the opposite way that we should [...]

  • [...] Feed, which helped quell the anger. Hulu’s response to the Sunny in Philadelphia uproar was incredibly quick and just as important, [...]

  • [...] Feed, which helped quell the anger. Hulu’s response to the Sunny in Philadelphia uproar was incredibly quick and just as important, [...]

  • [...] left, and fighting to keep them monetized at all costs. So Fox-owned FX ask for their shows to be removed from Hulu, and Murdoch turns on the charm offensive (ha!) and let’s the world know that “free is [...]

  • Julie says:

    I am impressed that Hulu took the blame for this one. One of my friends told me that I had to hurry up and watch It’s Always Sunny before it went back down. It’s great! So thanks for the extension.

  • Soulcrux says:

    So, is FX asking Hulu to remove ALL of the episodes of Sunny? Because the day that I found out that everyone was furious at Hulu there were “rolling” episodes.
    Are they just removing them all outright, or “rolling” them?

    Also, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of Hulu’s most watched and most popular shows. It seems kind of foolish for FX to want to remove it, seeing as it gives them publicity and Ad views.

  • Hi Jason,
    This is refreshing and well-written. I wrote a post about your apology on our company blog. Please check it out when you have a moment. Thanks for listening.

    http://www.markyr.com/what-every-ceo-can-learn-from-hulus-jason-kilar

    Best,
    Marjorie Kase
    Co-Founder
    MarKyr Media
    http://www.markyr.com

  • Carson says:

    Since it is obvious that Hulu actually does listen to its viewers feedback, I just wanted to say thank you for this very reasonable solution to this problem. I was halfway through the 4th season when IASIP went to rolling episodes on Jan. 9th. Thanks to Hulu and FX for giving Hulu viewers a chance to watch the latest season before it is taken down.

  • Reagan says:

    What’s more impressive is that Hulu’s “CEO” took this matter personally and posted a response on his own. It shows Hulu really does listen to site-viewers and their concerns.

  • rebeccahulu says:

    saybo, Whenever we have information about show availability, we post it in a section called “Availablity Notes” on the main page for a show. (You can get to these main show pages by clicking on the show’s name in blue throughout hulu.com).

  • saybo says:

    So what is the policy for when content has to come down? Having a message explaining the upcoming change (& cause) on the Always Sunny in Philadelphia is great.

    A couple of weeks ago I was working my way through the TV series “Life” and noticed small notes next to each episode that the content being removed in so-many days. It didn’t really make sense that all but the latest 5 episodes were going to go away (I thought it was just some specific episodes being taken down) until the day all the back episodes went away. I saw at least a few other NBC shows in the same situation, but no explanation like you have for Always Sunny.

    Maybe I don’t know where to look for this information.

  • rebeccahulu says:

    An update on Jeff’s email above, about “A Dog’s Breakfast:” That movie was taken down in error (a date was entered into the wrong field); in fact, our rights to stream the movie for longer have been extended, so it’s back up on Hulu. You can watch it here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/50266/a-dogs-breakfast.

    Jeff, thanks for calling our attention to the matter.

  • Val says:

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  • It’s interesting to see how quickly people threaten piracy — as I wrote in my OmniVideo blog, it’s a bit like warning your spouse that if they don’t want to be intimate with you, you’ll just sleep with someone else! I have a feeling it doesn’t encourage the behavior you really want. Having sat with copyright lawyers at major studios when they hear about these kinds of threats, I can assure you they tend to overreact.

    I do like what Adam is willing to put out there — the idea that those of us who value a service like Hulu should have the option to pay for it. Notice that Netflix is getting away with that — perhaps a Hulu option would be worth paying for, especially if it went to the TV.

  • Jeff says:

    So, I read this post and felt like you guys finally understood that you need to treat your customers better. Then, in the same day, you pull “A Dog’s Breakfast” with no notice, and remove it from my queue so that there is no trace of it.

    That plus the glitchy playback I’ve been experiencing lately (unless I let the buffer fill after most commercials) has me thinking that it’s time to seriously consider getting more of my content elsewhere, even if I have to pay for it.

  • Adam says:

    Hey there,

    Have you considered adding an ad-free premium option? I would not be averse to paying $10-$15/mo to get the service with the ads removed.

    At first, they weren’t that annoying, it seemed that it was like a 15 second ad every 15 minutes or something. Now it seems the ads have gotten longer and more frequent.

    I’d be happy to pay in exchange for ad-free programming. Recurring charges are always annoying, but perhaps something like a credit system where you can buy a certain number of hours of ad-free programming. (or if you want, you can subscribe)

    I’m not averse to paying for content, however, I am averse to ads! I think the ease of use will make or break you guys. If you can remain less annoying than torrenting stuff, I think you’ll do very well. Ads are annoying, but if you can offer the option of ad-free programming for a reasonable fee, everybody wins!

    Thanks for listening!

  • Caroline says:

    You guys rock. Thanks so much for listening to us.

  • Pax says:

    Very impressed by the candor of this post as well as FX Networks’ reasonable response and resolution in working with Hulu.com to provide a resonable solution to this. //

    Matt Hendry is absolutely right regarding the elements that lead to piracy. In defense of video content owners, their overall response, I think, has been remarkable to date when compared to the continuing response of music providers. Hulu, for its’ part, has done a terrific job working with the current limitations of the market. //

    In regard to expiration dates, when I first started using Hulu.com, I worked with the [queue] system. In this area of the site, I was able to see expiration dates. The [queue] system didn’t work well for me and decided to use an online bookmarks resource to access my favorite TV programs. Accessing specific pages such as: http://www.hulu.com/outer-limits and updating the title of my bookmark to track where I left off works better for me. The only downside… I lost the ability to easily see if and when these TV series will expire. //

    I’d like to recommend adding expiration information to the main pages of programs (the listing pages) so that users can better organize their viewing. Thanks! //

    Keep up the great work Hulu!!:-)

  • Erin D says:

    Thank you very much Hulu. I just started watching the series last week. Unfortunately I didn’t get to finish the shows before they were removed. I’m very pleased with the service you have provided and hope you continue to provide top notch service.

  • Sean Brigg says:

    A+++

  • Matt Hendry says:

    Silicon Valley Insider seems to think the same way I do

    http://www.alleyinsider.com/2009/1/screwing-with-hulu-boosting-piracy

  • Mia says:

    Thanks for being so honest.

  • I commend you on your transparency and openness Hulu. Your customer service rocks.

    Unfortunately Matt is correct and anyone with a bb for a brain knows what happens when content owners take content away from easily accessible channels like Hulu. Piracy happens and everyone that loves the content and finds in another way becomes a criminal. Advertising dollars are lost and the cycle continues.

    We don’t want to buy your dvds. We want to watch it when we want online and we don’t mind advertising.

  • Matt Hendry says:

    Jason this is the reason we still use bit torrent despite the avaiblity and ease of use of HULU and other services .

    Rights issues continue to plague the content aggregation space and HULU isn’t the first service to have shows pulled without notice ,restricted by geography and many other rights issues that annoy your users .

    Content owners need to understand that the users of HULU will just go back to “piracy” if they cant get access to their content and most users dont understand the complexity of international copyright law ,contracts and worldwide syndication that HULU has to deal with on a daily basis .

    So content owners have a choose continue to distribute your content in the old media way and have it pirated with the commercials removed or put it on content services like HULU or Joost with less intrusive advertising and remove the Geo Restrictions and forget about syndication because viewers in other parts of the world have already downloaded it before your “viewing window” even opens .

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