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Streaming customers frustrated by lack of “Rudolph” on CBS

A picture showing an elf and a reindeer as captured in a Christmas television show.
(Image courtesy NBCUniversal)

For the second year in a row, streaming TV customers found themselves unable to watch the classic stop-motion animated movie “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” even though it was widely available on the free broadcast network, CBS.

The reason? A complex web of contracts, distribution rights and money.

The holiday classic that features songs like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “We’re A Couple of Misfits” is scheduled to air Tuesday, November 29 on local CBS stations and affiliates across the country at 8 p.m. (though air times vary by station and time zone). While antenna users, cable and satellite customers had no problem watching the film on CBS, subscribers of streaming cable television alternatives like Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, Sling TV and even Paramount Global (which shares common ownership with CBS) found that they were unable to watch the movie on Tuesday night.

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

The reason has to do with digital distribution rights: While CBS has the right to broadcast the film over-the-air, on cable and on satellite, the digital distribution rights are held by the Walt Disney Company for its cable channel, Freeform. That means customers of popular streaming cable alternatives like Sling TV, Vidgo and Fubo TV will have to wait until December to watch the classic holiday film when it airs on Freeform.

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):

  • Saturday, December 3: 9:15 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 4: 5:35 p.m.
  • Wednesday, December 21: 9 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 22: 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 24: 5:45 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 25: 11 a.m.

To watch Freeform without cable or satellite, you’ll need a streaming cable TV alternative. Currently, Sling TV is the cheapest way to watch “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on Freeform without cable or satellite: Freeform and other Disney-owned channels like ESPN and Disney are available in the Sling Orange package, which costs just $40 a month (though streamers who use this link can grab their first month of Sling TV for just $20). The movie can even be recorded for later playback thanks to Sling TV’s generous cloud DVR feature.

Streamers who want a few more channels like live news and sports should consider Vidgo, which costs $60 a month and includes Freeform in its base package of over 100 live channels. Fubo TV, which offers a robust cloud DVR as well as access to all Disney cable channels, is also an option, though it costs $70 a month.

Don’t want to deal with a monthly subscription? “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is available to buy on Amazon Prime Video for just $8 when customers purchase a digital copy of the movie using this link.

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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).