Why Isn’t Your Favorite Show Available for Streaming?

The explanation is somehow both simple and complicated

Brianne Sandorf
Jun 06, 2023
Icon Time To Read3 min read

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Ever want to watch something and you just. Can’t. Find It??

Maybe that show you’re looking for never made it to streaming in the first place, or maybe it’s constantly shunted between different services, or maybe it was once streaming but got canceled or simply removed.

But why? Why is so much content not available? It more or less comes down to money (doesn’t everything?), but it can be hard to see how that’s the case. After all, already created content = more money, right?

Somehow, that’s not always true (maintenance costs), or sometimes content simply isn’t available to a service that would like to air it (licensing issues). In fact, in some cases, it’s actually better for the studio to get rid of an already-created show altogether (tax benefits).

Let’s dig into this a little more.

Why can’t you find your faves on a streaming service?

Maintenance costs

Once a show is made, it incurs no more expenses, and it just makes money forever, right?

Wrong. Every streamed show has its maintenance costs, says Forbes. The big one is hosting the content on the cloud, but there’s also a content delivery network aka a way to get the content to phones, laptops, and TVs all over the world. And other costs come to mind, such as transcribing closed captioning for older shows that don’t already have it.

This is apparently the reason Cartoon Network’s celebrated Infinity Train may never be offered part and parcel with a streaming platform again. According to Collider, in a majorly controversial move, HBO bought the series, canceled it after a few seasons, and then removed it from Max to save money. Now to watch it, fans have to buy it by the episode.

Licensing issues and costs

Call it licensing, call it rights, call it copyright, but it all amounts to this: a bunch of red tape that causes content to disappear.

There are a few different forms that licensing issues can take. Take, for instance, The Muppet Show. Seasons 4 and 5 of this '70s classic never made it to DVD. Why?

There were a few licensing-related issues with The Muppet Show in general. When Disney bought the Muppets in the early 2000s, the show included character appearances from franchises Disney didn’t own, like Sesame Street and Star Wars. (That one came later.) And most of the music in the show isn’t original, so episode distribution required paying music royalties.

Disney jumped over these hurdles to release the first few seasons but then seemingly gave up at Season Four, instead choosing to focus on other properties. The Muppet fandom was left twiddling its collective thumbs, waiting. (Yes, there’s a Muppet fandom. It’s like any other fandom, just with less shipping and more handmade puppets.)

Finally, in 2021, Seasons Four and Five were released on Disney+ with the other three—mostly. They’re still missing a couple episodes.

Licensing issues are also the reason Marvel movies and shows have been scattered across streaming services. The most famous example is probably Spider-Man, whose film (and theme park) rights are the knotty center of complicated multi-studio deals.

Also, in a slightly different take on licensing, some streaming services don’t even fully own their own original content. That’s why Disney+ recently cut The Mysterious Benedict Society, according to Disney Plus Informer—they didn’t want to continue paying for the rights to the series.

Tax benefits

Apparently, if a production company sinks money into a show that never comes to fruition, they can claim it as a loss on taxes.

That sounds pretty messed up, and it is. Take the Warner Brothers DCEU film Batgirl. This Barbara Gordon-centered, straight-to-Max-streaming movie was in post-production when Warner Brothers execs canceled it in the wake of a crumbling Extended Universe.

This move is the streaming equivalent of a retail chain making a bunch of clothes and then dumping them in a landfill: technically within studio rights but seemingly incredibly wasteful. Canceling a series is one thing, but never airing an entire, nearly-done movie is mindblowing.

However, Esquire suggests, Warner Brothers’ assessment showed they’d make more money through 2022 tax losses than by actually showing the film. Wild, huh?

My advice

So now that you know why you can’t find content on streaming services, what can you do about it? Cry, of course, and maybe sign a petition to let studios know how you feel. (Urban legend says this is how Kim Possible got un-canceled.)

But you can also do a few other things, like sign up for the streaming services that offer the content you love and cancel the ones you feel have done you dirty.

Brianne Sandorf
Written by
Brianne Sandorf
Brianne has a degree in English and creative writing from Westminster College and has spent 6+ years writing professional, research-based content. Before joining Reviews.org, she wrote safety and security content for ASecureLife.com. Her pieces and quotes are published across the web, including on MSN.com, Social Catfish, and Parents.com. Hobbies include wearing a seatbelt, wearing a life jacket, and keeping her arms and legs inside the ride at all times. Contact her at brianne@reviews.org.

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