Cord-cutters: Demand that Hulu its live-TV DVR

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In the cutthroat world of cord-cutting, the best options don’t always get the most customers.

Case in point: Hulu + Live TV, whose 3.7 million subscribers make it the most popular cable bundle replacement today. That’s despite a DVR service that’s objectively worse than nearly all its competitors. Unlike rivals such as YouTube TV and Sling TV, Hulu won’t let you skip ads in recordings without paying extra for the privilege, and it doesn’t support watching recordings while they’re still in progress.

I feel compelled to bring this up after last week’s column, in which I cheerily proclaimed that live TV streaming services had shed the bizarre DVR restrictions that once made them feel like second-rate cable alternatives. In hindsight, I should have made a bigger deal of how Hulu is the sad exception to the rule.

The ad-skipping upcharge

At its base price of $65 per month, Hulu + Live TV lets you record up to 50 hours of live TV, with no time limit on how long those recordings are available. But to skip through commercial breaks, you must pay an extra $10 per month for Hulu’s “Enhanced Cloud DVR” add-on, which also gives you 200 total hours of recording time.

Hulu’s DVR upcharge seemed reasonable when its prices were lower—the live TV service originally cost $40 per month when it arrived in 2017—and when other services had their own recording limitations. But as those services’ DVRs have matured, Hulu hasn’t kept up.

YouTube TV, for instance, used to prevent ad skipping on any show that had an on-demand version available. It ended that practice for most channels in 2018, and for all channels in 2019. Sling TV used to charge $5 per month extra for DVR service that couldn’t record certain channels, but later added a free DVR tier and lifted those restrictions. DirecTV Stream (formerly DirecTV Now, then AT&T TV Now, then AT&T TV) launched without DVR service, but added one after two years.

By contrast, Hulu’s ad-skipping add-on effectively creates a hidden $10 fee for anyone who expects a typical DVR experience. Cord-cutters shouldn’t stand for it, not when YouTube TV and FuboTV are both charging the same $65 per month for unrestricted DVR service.

In-progress recording restrictions

If the ad-skipping restrictions weren’t bad enough, Hulu is also the only live TV streaming service that doesn’t let you watch recordings while they’re still in progress. Recorded programs don’t appear in your DVR list until after they’re over, and if you load the program from Hulu’s channel guide, you can only jump straight to the live feed.

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