Cord Cutting 7: Niche networks (and Motor Trend On Demand disappoints)

One of the disadvantages of cord cutting is that you have hundreds of sources of programming — many being narrowcast, niche networks, some being streaming services, some both — from which to choose and pay for enjoy. Traditional pay channels like HBO, Showtime, etc., sure, but segmented ones like BritBox (for anglophiles), Motor Trend On Demand (for petrolheads), Quello (for concerts), and many more. Whatever your “thing,” there’s probably a way to pay to watch all of it you want.

I just bit the bullet and signed-up for my first such service: Motor Trend On Demand and not 24 hours in, I can summarize my review in one word: disappointing.

More on that in a moment. First, my main disappointment with all these add-on networks and services is how incredibly difficult everyone wants to make it:

  • Is it a live, 24×7 broadcast/streaming network? Is it an on-demand service (choose and play what you want, when you want it)? Is it both? Can you watch offline (on a plane), or does it require a live Internet connection? Does it work on the web, or do you need an app? Are there ads? No ads? Skippable ads? Who freakin’ knows! (I’m convinced that these companies internally obfuscate these details and capitalize on the confusion.)
  • Amazon resells many of these services as Amazon Channels, making Fire TV Stick users like me good candidates for targeting and buy-in. But can you go to Amazon.com and browse a full list to see what’s available, what they provide, and pony-up to buy them? No. You have to know what you want, and stumble across it.
  • Many of these apps share branding, but not purpose. CBS All Access is not CBS the television network. Motor Trend On Demand (let’s call it MTOD) is not Motor Trend the network (let’s call that just MT). Yes, there are things in-common. But the product you’re buying and viewing is not the same, and the content varies. (This will come-up again momentarily.)
  • If you’re looking for a specific show, or worse, a specific episode of a specific show to watch, you’ll need to do your homework, because you’re probably going to be disappointed — as I was — or at minimum, very, very confused.

A glaring example (and a massive disappointment): Motor Trend On Demand

So let’s put this in context: Motor Trend On Demand.

This story begins late last year. Being a MINI Cooper owner, my brother-in-law called one evening, raving about an episode of Wheeler Dealers he’d just seen on Motor Trend — formerly Velocity — where the guys bought and cleaned-up a 2004 MINI Cooper S MC40. Cool! Yes, I wanted to watch! Alas, we’d just cut the cord, and Motor Trend wasn’t on the menu. Until it was.

Hulu made a deal with Discovery Networks recently, bringing a handful of their networks to Hulu with Live TV. Motor Trend was one of them. Pretty much overnight, Motor Trend became one of the main things I actually spent time watching on Hulu (well, that, and Food Network). I don’t consider myself a car guy, but wow, I couldn’t stop watching. Junkyard Empire. Graveyard Cars. Bitchin’ Rides. I was hooked!

When you watch MT (Motor Trend the network), the advertising of MTOD (the streaming service), is utterly relentless — they hammer you over the head with it. And the messaging they provide suggests a few things:

  • You can watch everything on MTOD that you can on MT — just on-demand so you pick what you want, when you want it.
  • You get early access to shows on MTOD before they air on MT.
  • You can watch everything on MTOD commercial-free.

And — it’s only $4.99 a month. Killer deal, and I eventually fell for it. But as I said above, it took mere hours to figure-out that it’s not what Motor Trend (the company) wants me to believe. Example after example, I was disappointed:

  • Junkyard Empire is airing on MT in Season 4. MTOD has episodes through Season 3 only. Not only is that not “early access,” it’s not even access at all.
  • I missed an episode of Overhaulin’ that I wanted to see (Season 3, Episode 26). MTOD doesn’t have Season 3; they have a smattering of some seasons, and some episodes in each, but that’s about it.
  • I wanted to see Wheeler Dealers Season 14, Episode 16, the one with the aforementioned MINI MC40. MTOD has just one episode available in Season 14 — and it’s not Episode 16.
  • I haven’t seen evidence (so far) that there’s any “early access” on MTOD to any of the core content one might tune-in to MT to watch — namely banner series like Bitchin’ Rides.

You can sort of get around some of the limitations…

  • Since MT appears on Hulu with Live TV, you can on-demand stream via the Hulu app certain episodes of certain shows from MT (with ads of course) — but not all of them, and nobody provides a list.
  • You can use your Hulu (or cable company) login credentials to log into MT’s web site, and watch certain things — like the Wheeler Dealers episode I wanted — but this has nothing whatsoever to do with MTOD, an MTOD login, or an MTOD account, and you don’t need to pay for MTOD to be able to do this.
  • Amazon Prime Video lets you buy episodes to certain programs, but of course, that’s a costly way to go to get what you want.

I’m quite certain that rights ownership and licensing issues around the content is the underlying challenge, and understandably, neither the producers nor the networks and streaming providers want to make it any clearer, since it’s apt to just make it even more confusing in the process.

But just as these same types of challenges exist in the music buying and streaming space, who loses in the end is consumers — and, I’d argue, the producers. I am willing to pay a reasonable price to get access to ad-free content I’m interested in. That’s not the point. What is the point is that you have to make the content accessible in a way that’s not arguably stupid, and customer hostile.

This is a concept that Motor Trend (the company) doesn’t seem to grasp — and neither do any of the other major networks or services. They’re more interested in spinning a good marketing story and then underdelivering on the promise, hoping that five bucks a month (in MTOD’s case) is cheap enough that most people will just pay anyway to get whatever they can.

Whether I’m one of those people remains to be seen. Yes, MTOD has a lot of content. It’s just not the content I signed-up to access to, and so far, that’s leaving me seriously disappointed.