The Handmaid’s Tale, a television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name, premiered to much fanfare on Hulu on 26 April, 2017. There was one small issue: Hulu isn’t available in the UK.
The show was quickly picked up by Channel 4 and began broadcasting on Britsh television on 28 May. Regardless, it was irritating that Hulu’s only plan for British fans of the book was for them to obtain a review copy, wait to import a DVD release, or even — whisper — pirate it.
It brings to mind that the just-cancelled Underground TV series was never released in the UK. The big-budget drama, produced by John Legend and featuring Aisha Hinds’ acclaimed turn as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, was cancelled after two seasons: its broadcaster WGN came under new management that deemed producing original drama unprofitable for the channel. That’s unsurprising, given the show is not on the UK version of iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Microsoft, or the PlayStation Store. I’d greatly welcome if Netflix picked up the show, partly so I could watch it.
In some cases, I can understand that a US network like ABC may initially be relucant to sell a sitcom like Black-ish to Britain. (Channel 4 acquired it during its third season: other sitcoms like Fresh Off the Boat or Speechless haven’t come to the UK.) In others, waiting for a channel to buy the show is just nonsense: National Geographic produced Saints and Strangers, a retelling of the Thanksgiving story, but it’s unavailable on any of the UK services I’ve mentioned as it was seemingly not broadcast on their channel here. Similarly, the Roots remake wasn’t broadcast on the History Channel, but sold to the BBC, which eventually dumped it on BBC Four:
The world apparently got smaller but in some cases it seems we’re still held back by a conservative view of broadcasting for profit. Channels should be more willing to sell their productions on streaming services instead of keeping shows unavailable in perpetuity. It’s twice as pointless if the show is sold to a subscription channel anyway. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if crackdowns on piracy keep failing.