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“Rudolph” on CBS blocked for streaming TV service customers

The popular holiday movie was unavailable due to a rights issue with another network.

The popular holiday movie was unavailable due to a rights issue with another network.

(Image courtesy NBCUniversal)

Editor’s note: This story, originally published in 2020, began receiving a significant amount of interest in November 2023. Unfortunately, many of the reasons in the original article hold true: CBS still does not have digital distribution rights to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which means the show isn’t available on services like Paramount Plus. As was the case two years ago, the show is available to stream on cable alternatives like Sling TV and Fubo when it airs on Freeform later this month. For an updated story with the dates and times “Rudolph” will air on Freeform, plus ways to stream the movie without cable or satellite, click or tap here…

Streaming TV customers were disappointed to find that the popular holiday movie “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” airing on CBS was blocked on Tuesday evening.

As is usually the case with these situations, you can blame money and contracts.

The stop-motion film featuring songs like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “We’re A Couple of Misfits” was scheduled to air on local CBS stations across the country Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. (7 p.m., in some areas), but viewers who tried to access it with streaming services like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and even CBS’ own All Access service were disappointed to find that they couldn’t watch the program with the service they paid for.

“This current show isn’t available for live-streaming,” a message told viewers when they tried to watch Rudolph on CBS All Access early Tuesday evening.

So why was “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” unavailable to stream on local CBS stations? The culprit was licensing rights: CBS is allowed to make the move available to viewers who receive the network through traditional means —with an antenna or by watching a local station on a cable or satellite service — but their rights didn’t extend to streaming TV platforms, including their own.

Those rights are held by the Walt Disney Company, which plans to make “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” available to watch on its cable channel Freeform this weekend and throughout the month. When it airs on Freeform, customers who subscribe to streaming TV services like YouTube TV, Sling TV, Fubo TV and its own Hulu with Live TV will be able to watch the movie in real-time and save the movie to their cloud DVR.

Here’s when “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is scheduled to air on Freeform (all times are Eastern, though some cable systems may time-shift for local areas):

  • Sunday, December 5 at 7:40 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 6 at 5:40 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 20 at 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, December 25 at 5 p.m.

For those who must watch it on CBS, the movie will re-air Sunday, December 13 at 8 p.m. — just make sure you have an antenna handy.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).