Hulu’s support for download is long overdue, but its limited coverage and functionality are sure to disappoint just about every Hulu subscriber.
Only 15% of Hulu users can download shows
Hulu has made two decisions that severely limit the number of people that can use the feature. A year-and-a-half ago, the company promised to be the first streaming service to support downloads with advertising. Hulu reneged on that promise, disappointing the 70% of subscribers that are signed up for the cheaper plan that includes ads.
The decision to support iOS only further limits the number of people that can use the download feature. Mobile users in the U.S. are evenly split between Android and Apple. In other words, only half of the 30% of ad-free views – around four million of Hulu’s 28 million users – can use the download feature.
Those that can use downloads will be disappointed
Though Hulu claimed its download feature would offer market-leading functionality like ad support, what it has delivered is rudimentary compared to the competition. Here is how Hulu measures up against some of the basic features a user would want.
Managing device disk space usage
Mobile device is storage is a precious resource to many device users. Allowing them to select the quality of the video they download lets them trade off a little loss in picture quality to save a lot of storage space. Hulu allows a user to select between “Standard” and “High” quality for downloads. However, there is no hint as to how much storage space is saved in the process. Compare that to Amazon Prime Video, which has four quality levels and tells the user exactly how much space each uses.
Another space-saving feature is the automatic deletion of watched episodes. Hulu does not provide the function, while competitors like Netflix do. To be fair, few other streaming services with download capabilities automatically delete a watched episode either. However, if Hulu wants to be a market leader, this is the type of feature it should support.
Background downloads but no notifications, prioritization
Hulu allows a user to schedule a download and then switch away to other tasks while the download proceeds in the background. However, it provides no notifications of progress or completion. The only way to know the progress of a download you want is to return to the download page and check.
Say you want to finish watching a movie on the road that you are part way through viewing. However, there are already several shows downloading for the trip. With Hulu, you must wait for the other shows to finish before the half-watched movie starts to download. Amazon Prime Video lets a user change the order of the downloads. Hulu does not.
No auto-restart of in-progress downloads
A great way to preserve your mobile data is to allow downloads to happen over Wi-Fi only. Hulu and most other streaming services with download capability will enable you to configure the feature that way. However, what if you are in the middle of downloading a TV episode, and you must go out for a while? Will the download continue where it left off when you return within Wi-Fi range? With Hulu, it does not. You receive an error message that the download failed, and you must manually restart it.
It is good that at least a few Hulu customers can download videos and enjoy their subscription everywhere they go. However, with such limited reach and limited functionality, Hulu subscribers have every reason to be disappointed. Other services provide complete customer coverage and a more comprehensive feature set.
Perhaps Hulu engineers found developing the feature much harder than they expected.[i] That is not an excuse. Third-party solutions exist that can provide all the functionality discussed and more. We can only hope the company will move quickly to improve both reach and functionality of the download feature.
Why it matters
80% of US SVOD users say the ability to download videos from a service is important to them. 42% say they are monthly users.
The popularity of downloading has led to many SVOD services supporting the feature.
Hulu is late delivering download support, it can be used by few customers, and functionality is limited.
[i] Hulu developed its streaming platform in-house, and we assume it developed the download feature in-house too.