For the last 18 months, “getting away from it all” simply consisted of turning on the TV to experience sun-drenched vistas. Despite the show debuting in 2013 and spawning not one (Below Deck Mediterranean) but two (Below Deck Sailing Yacht) spinoffs, 2020 marked the first time I, a viewer in the U.K., encountered the Bravo reality series Below Deck and entered the world of superyachts. Although only the first two seasons of the original were available on the platform where I found it, Netflix, I was hooked.
To watch the subsequent seasons abroad, though, meant jumping ship to an international streaming service I’ve grown to rely on more and more: Hayu, a streaming service available to reality-loving fans outside of the United States. Yes, it is meant to sound like “Hey, you!,” and its name is officially styled with all lowercase letters (“hayu”), adding to its easy-breezy vibe. For all the Anglocentric services available in the States that give you an endless scroll of British crime shows and costume dramas, Hayu provides international audiences with something else: a vast reality-show archive with over 3,000 episodes and “binge-worthy box sets” available to a slew of European countries, Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong. Much, though not all, of it comes from the Bravo universe: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Bravo’s sprawling Real Housewives empire, and, yes, our beloved Below Deck yachties. “Reality on Demand” is Hayu’s tagline, and the streamer blessedly offers episodes the same day they air in the U.S.
The fact that Hayu is the official home of KUWTK — including an ad campaign last year that I kept mistaking for the movie Bombshell — has been a big selling point for Hayu subscribers, and when it launched in 2016, then-chairman of NBCUniversal International Kevin MacLellan emphasized its combination of premium reality content and social media. Among the easy-to-navigate categories, there’s one called “Trending Clips” that offers a bite-size taste of the biggest titles or narratives, and memes, polls, and clips dominate the Twitter and Instagram accounts. For a more streamlined version without the bells and whistles, partner sites like Apple TV and Amazon Prime focus on content over interaction.
The Kardashians may be plastered on all the service’s billboards, but its roster goes much deeper and includes competition shows like Top Chef and Project Runway. As with most streamers, new customers are enticed with introductory deals either offering a free month or a reduced rate for a longer period — for the first 90 days, I paid 99 pence per month instead of £4.99.
Three months was all I needed to finish the Below Deck catalog (except for the current season of Sailing Yacht), but around the time I was considering giving up on Hayu (on top of paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ — I’m still in Apple TV+’s free period), I noticed Top Chef sitting in the “Just Added” tab. As someone who had never watched a single minute of this long-running series, I now had the (cheap!) opportunity to consume its previous 17 seasons.
Traveling back to March 2006, when Top Chef made its debut after the Project Runway season two finale, its 4:3 aspect ratio (which you cannot adjust on the app) is a jolt that’ll send you spiraling back. So will the unfortunate mid-’00s fashion choices — this era wasn’t great for anyone, and not even Padma Lakshmi could escape the pirate cosplay some of us participated in.
At the time of writing, I have watched 13 seasons over the course of two and a half months. Top Chef is what I put on first thing in the morning over breakfast and while cooking dinner (no, I am no better in the kitchen after viewing more than 100 quick-fire challenges). Toggling between Amazon Prime and the Hayu app is possible, which means all the additional clips and features are available. Switching between TV and a phone is ideal for when I am in the kitchen, and episodes can be downloaded for when traveling becomes part of my routine again. The “My Shows” option lets you select the titles you are interested in, whether they’re a franchise or a specific category, but the recommendations tab also includes additional content that is easy to scroll through (and I have already spotted other options for when the Top Chef catch-up is complete). The 15-second skip forward and backward functions ensure that I can avoid the scenes that normally straddle the commercial breaks — or rewatch controversial judging decisions. Unlike with many streamers, it is possible to screenshot on the app, and this works wonders for pointing out the aforementioned fashion faux pas or standout dishes (both the food and the dreamy contestants) on social media.
To get the same volume of reality-show streaming content in the U.S., both Hulu and Peacock would be required if you want to watch the Below Deck, Real Housewives, and KUWTK archives (among all the other titles Hayu has on offer). Peacock’s free tier gives you all but the most recent Below Deck seasons, but you will have to stump up the cash for Peacock Premium to get Real Housewives. Top Chef is on both Hulu and Peacock, but the latter has also commissioned spinoffs of these popular series to boost the original slate it has on offer. Below Deck Down Under is Australia-bound, and Top Chef Family Style will feature young chefs paired with adult family members. Meanwhile, the Kardashians signed a monster deal with Disney (therefore Hulu), but E! still holds the rights, and the final season will only be added to the Hulu and Peacock libraries in 2022.
Navigating the various development, content, and licensing deals is headache-inducing — and the simplicity of Hayu is stark in contrast. “You can have it all” is a sentiment offered to Hayu subscribers, and it’s not wrong: The shows are all there and easy to find.
Hayu’s unique selling point is the Hulu-like immediacy of when the episodes are made available, but its extensive library, which spurred me into signing up in the first place, is why I didn’t cut the cord on this subscription. Whereas the dominant streamers offer a smorgasbord of genres in a bid to cater to a wide array of tastes, Hayu is not alone in its focused approach. Shudder caters to horror fans, Crunchyroll is an anime paradise, Acorn has British crime drama tapped, and Discovery+ is home to content from HGTV, TLC, and ID (among others). Home entertainment has never felt this plentiful (or overwhelming). And while all these single-purpose streamers have a lot of mediocre options lurking in their libraries as well, the Cheesecake Factory Dilemma is less pronounced because the choice falls under the same umbrella. It is far easier to land on something you want to watch on a platform that caters to one particular preference.
In the streaming-wars showdown, specialist options like Hayu and Shudder are not coming for Netflix’s crown. Rather, they offer a niche service that looks to satisfy a specific interest. In fact, by only having a sampling of a long-running competition series rather than the whole library, Netflix sent me running to the purveyor of reality on demand. And when there is no more Top Chef available to watch? Then I will be asking for Real Housewives recommendations.