Updates on Canadian availability of "American Horror Stories", "Anne Boleyn", and more.
Hulu launched in March 2008 as one of the earliest sites still online devoted to offering on-demand streaming television programming on the Internet, with early investments from News Corp and NBCUniversal, later joined by The Walt Disney Company (the latter of which has since taken full management control of Hulu).
More than 12 years later, Hulu is still not available in Canada, and it's not likely to be available in this country anytime soon. It's available only in the United States, with a separate but loosely related service operating under the Hulu name in Japan.
Hulu's help page regarding international availability says (emphasis ours):
A Hulu subscription is intended for use by members of a single U.S. household. Therefore, you will need a U.S.-issued form of payment when you sign up.
In February 2021, Disney launched Star as a hub for programming intended for adult audiences within the existing Disney+ streaming service in Canada and several other countries. This is not a direct equivalent to Hulu, but it is probably the closest that Canadians, and most others outside the U.S., will get, and over time the two services' offerings will likely become more similar to each other.
The Star banner encompasses a large number of TV series and movies produced by Disney subsidiaries (like Touchstone, ABC Signature, and 20th Century) which have been available on Hulu in the United States, as well as a small number of Hulu originals including Love, Victor and Solar Opposites. We expect that the majority of future Hulu originals will go to Star in Canada.
Most Hulu original programs that debuted prior to the launch of Star had already been available in Canada through other linear TV channels and streaming services, in most cases through individual deals made for each series. Many of these original series landed here on Crave, while others have been distributed on Netflix, Citytv, FX Canada, and CBC Gem. However, there have frequently been delays betweeen American and Canadian availability, and some have never been picked up in Canada, even by Star.
What Hulu programs can I watch in Canada?
We've put together a list with a rough overview of where many of Hulu's most-sought programs are available in Canada.
Note that we cannot realistically keep track of every single program (particularly "library" programming, i.e. reruns of shows that first aired on other networks) so we're restricting this list to some of Hulu's highest-profile recent original series, and a few other programs that might be harder to find; more may be added over time. For shows not listed, please refer to the "Other resources" section of our About page for a few other sites that may be able to point you in the right direction.
|Helstrom; Love, Victor; Solar Opposites||Star (Disney+)
These Hulu-commissioned series were produced by subsidiaries of Disney, which held onto the Canadian (and other international) streaming rights for Star, as described above.
|The Great||Amazon Prime Video
The Prime Video Canada Twitter account has confirmed it will be streaming this series, a satire about Catherine the Great, in Canada starting May 16, one day after its Hulu debut. Although the producing studio is MRC, international distribution is handled by ViacomCBS.
|Little Fires Everywhere||Amazon Prime Video
This series will be available in Canada (and much of the rest of the world) on Prime Video, part of the retailer's Prime subscription program (affiliate link), starting Friday, May 22, 2020. More information is available here.
|Normal People||CBC Gem
This Ireland-set series based on the Sally Rooney novel was commissioned by the BBC and Hulu, but is produced by Element Pictures and distributed internationally by Endeavor Content.
The CBC has acquired Canadian rights to the series, and will be releasing two episodes a week (12 total) on its Gem streaming platform starting Wednesday, May 27.
|The New York Times Presents||Crave
FX and Hulu do not control the international rights to this documentary series, which is distributed by Red Arrow Studios, owner of the company that handles the physical production of the series (Left/Right). Red Arrow finally sold Canadian rights to Crave in February 2021, shortly after the U.S. release of Framing Britney Spears, with that film debuting on February 26th, and previously-aired documentaries available starting in March.
NYT Presents is a successor to The Weekly, a short-lived weekly series which is distributed separately by Red Arrow; to our knowledge, Crave has not acquired rights to that program.
This anthology series (including, among other notable segments, Dicktown) was commissioned by FXX. However, for reasons that are not clear, it was never picked up by FXX Canada / Rogers, with rights remaining with FX Networks / Disney. Hence it ended up on Star in Canada.
|All other FX on Hulu programming including Mrs. America, Devs, A Teacher, and The Old Man||FX Canada
Rogers Media's licensed Canadian version of FX retains rights to these programs – all of which were originally intended to premiere on the regular FX channel in the U.S. – even after they were moved to Hulu.
Rogers operates an "FX Now" app with on-demand access to these and other FX shows, but only for the channel's cable subscribers. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible for cordcutters to access FX Canada.
|High Fidelity||Starz Canada (direct series link for Crave + Starz subscribers)
High Fidelity was originally ordered by Disney+ (and is produced by a Disney subsidiary), but later moved to Hulu due to its content being more adult than first anticipated. Bell Media announced an agreement with Disney's distribution arm to bring the series to Starz Canada shortly after its U.S. debut.
|Ramy||Starz Canada (direct series link for Crave + Starz subscribers)
Ramy is distributed internationally by Starz parent company Lionsgate, which retained the rights for its StarzPlay services in several international markets. It appears that this might have helped push it to Starz in Canada as well.
|The Act||Starz Canada (direct series link for Crave + Starz subscribers)
Starz announced a deal for Canadian rights to this series shortly before its U.S. debut. Although this series originates from Universal TV, it too seems to have been part of an international deal as Variety later revealed Starz "pre-bought the series for its [international] streaming service early in the production process".
|The Handmaid's Tale; Dollface; Shrill; Veronica Mars; Castle Rock||Crave (program titles link directly to their pages on Crave)
Bell Media made individual deals with the producers/distributors of these series – namely MGM, Disney / ABC Signature, and Warner Bros. (for the last three) – for Canadian streaming rights to these series, in some cases alongside or following linear airings on Bell's specialty channels.
This middle-school comedy series set in the year 2000 is produced by AwesomenessTV, a division of ViacomCBS, which of course has various partnerships for its other divisions with both Bell and Corus. Despite this, Awesomeness seems to operate and distribute programs independently, in this case to the CBC's streaming platform.
|Light as a Feather||No known carrier; available for digital purchase on iTunes
This supernatural thriller series is also produced by AwesomenessTV, but we were not able to find a Canadian rightsholder. Based on its availability for digital purchase, it's likely that the producers have given up on selling to a Canadian service for now.
Although now promoted in the U.S. as a "Hulu Original", this Canadian comedy series was commissioned by Crave as its first original series, and Crave remains its Canadian streaming home.
Why isn't Hulu available in Canada directly?
Up until recently (i.e., 2020), the main issue was that most of Hulu's programming rights (its permissions to stream shows) only covered the United States, not Canada or other parts of the world. The producers of most of Hulu's shows, both originals and "library" (reruns), had sold the Canadian streaming rights to other companies.
It's worth recalling that when Hulu first launched, it was primarily a free-to-watch, ad-supported portal to catch up on programming from its partner American networks including Fox, NBC and ABC.
However, the international broadcast rights to most of those networks' programs were already sold to other companies, and in Canada this meant networks such as CTV, Global and Citytv, none of which were interested in participating in the same way (though they typically made episodes available on their own websites).
In the absence of a level of participation from Canadian networks similar to that of ABC, Fox and NBC, a Canadian version of Hulu would have had very little content available. On top of that, as noted in this 2016 Toronto Star article, the smaller population size and smaller online advertising market would have made it more difficult for Hulu to operate sustainably here.
In the end, Hulu only launched in one other country, Japan, in 2011, only to sell those operations to local broadcaster Nippon TV in 2014.
Over time, Hulu has moved to a paid model (though the lowest-priced plan still requires viewers to watch some advertising), and slowly grown its original programming output to an extent that may not quite rival Netflix, but certainly has made it a force with series like The Handmaid's Tale.
However, even in these cases, Hulu chose not to (or, perhaps in some cases, was not able to) retain international rights, with the individual production companies behind each show selling rights to Canadian and other international broadcasters.
In other words, at least up until 2020, Hulu was willing to sit on the sidelines in Canada and allow local rights to its original series to be claimed by others.
In 2020, of course, Disney decided on a change in strategy which basically means that it has abandoned any further international expansion of Hulu, as we'll get into in the next section.
Will Hulu ever be available in Canada?
In December 2020, Disney made clear that Hulu, in the form that Americans are familiar with it today, will not be launching in Canada or anywhere else (outside Japan) in the foreseeable future. We don't feel as comfortable as some are with saying "never", but for all intents and purposes this is essentially "never".
If you've been confused after seeing previous announcements about Hulu, we don't blame you. Shortly after acquiring Hulu in 2019, Disney gave indications that Hulu would be expanding into other countries beginning in the latter part of 2021, as part of its overall direct-to-consumer strategy alongside Disney+.
However, in August 2020, Disney clarified that – citing limited overseas brand awareness, and perhaps seeking to avoid confusion around Hulu's existing content – it would use the Star brand instead for an international general-interest service. (Star is a broadcasting group based in Asia acquired by Disney in 2019 as part of its acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox.)
Subsequent reporting by other media outlets including Bloomberg has suggested that financial complications also drove Disney's decision to launch Star as a new brand rather than investing more money in Hulu.
In December 2020, Disney confirmed that Canada would be among the launch countries for Star, an age-restricted section for Disney+ which includes age-restricted content from Disney-owned studios like 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures, FX, and ABC Signature, but not other licensed programming that Hulu has hosted to date like The Handmaid's Tale (which remains with CTV Drama / Crave in Canada). As part of this launch, the monthly Canadian price for new Disney+ subscribers increased from $8.99 to $11.99.
Based on what we've seen, it appears the Star library in Canada is large, but not necessarily as complete as in other countries. Unlike some of the other countries where Star will be launching, Disney has already licensed out a lot of its content in Canada to local broadcasters and other streamers, like Bell and Netflix (many ABC shows like Grey's Anatomy), Rogers (FX programming), and Corus (Freeform).
These contracts are not indefinite – some of them may extend until a series has ended production, but once they expire, Disney will most likely insist it be able to put these shows on Star instead. And it's possible that, as with Disney+, the company has already put plans in place to either pull these rights back, or can keep non-exclusive rights (e.g. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. currently being available on both Crave and Disney+) – but it may still take several years to fully take effect.
Does the CRTC or the Canadian government have anything to do with Hulu not being available?
Our view is that they do not have a role, at least not directly. Despite the occasional claims that float around social media, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) insists that it does not interfere with Internet programming rights or the availability of foreign-based streaming video services (and, having looked through many CRTC documents in the past, we have seen no evidence indicating anything different).
If Hulu wanted to set up shop in Canada, from a government regulation perspective we believe they would have been free to do so, and neither the CRTC nor any other part of the federal government would interfere, just as they did not interfere with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney+ / Star launching in Canada.
But as with Netflix and Prime Video, not all of Hulu's American programming rights would automatically extend to Canada. Moreover, Disney / Hulu can't force the Canadian broadcasters that already purchased Canadian broadcast rights to Hulu's third-party programs – which are typically sold on an exclusive basis – to share or sell them back.
It is, of course, fair to note that some of the other long-standing CRTC and government policies intended to protect Canadian broadcasters – like foreign ownership restrictions, and simultaneous substitution of American advertising – have helped to protect the Canadian networks in other ways. In scenarios where those rules were not in place, Hulu might have had more motivation to come to Canada earlier in its history. But it's hard to know exactly how that would have turned out.
Are there any workarounds I could use to access Hulu from Canada?
Hulu says that it does not support the use of anonymous proxies (e.g. virtual private networks) in order to access its content, as under the terms of its programming rights it "needs to be able to determine a person’s accurate geographical location". As noted above, it also requires a U.S.-based form of payment (as in a payment card issued by a bank located in America, not just U.S. currency; we don't expect that a subsidiary bank like Capital One Canada would work either).
We're aware that some VPN services are explicitly advertising themselves as ways for Canadians to access Hulu and other U.S. services. However, this does not mean that they have permission, approval, or other involvement from the streaming services themselves, and as noted above the streaming companies usually cut off access to such proxies if/when they are identified. In our view, any such use is strictly "at your own risk", and we at WCIW do not endorse it.
- Februry 24, 2021 – Updates following the launch of Star in Canada.
- December 13, 2020 – Further updates on Disney's international streaming plans.
- August 13, 2020 – Updates on Disney's international general-interest streaming service plans.