TV

The Sharing Economy of Streaming Services

This weekend, Jenna Wortham looked at the relatively recent phenomenon among young people (but all people, really) of sharing accounts to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go:

Do the companies, particularly HBO, view this as especially problematic? I hesitated before asking, worried that any inquiries would prompt a crackdown, with the result that I’d become the most-hated person on the Internet.

But to the collective relief of nearly everyone I know, the companies with whom I spoke seemed to have little to no interest in curbing our sharing behavior — in part because they can’t. They have little ability to track and curtail their customers who are sharing account information, according to Jeff Cusson, senior vice president for corporate affairs at HBO. And, he said, the network doesn’t view the sharing “as a pervasive problem at this time.”

I have a Netflix account that I allow friends and family members to share, and I’ve used another person’s HBO Go account as well—which I’d be happy to pay for if the network offered such a service (but they’ve already said time and again that this probably won’t happen). In the meantime, if streaming services are going to allow us to share, we’re going to continue to do that.

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

sea ermine (#122)

I don’t see how me sharing Hulu Plus with my friends or sharing my phone bill with my sister is any worse for those companies than a family of four all using one Netflix account.

Morbo (#1,236)

@seaermine It depends on usage hours. A family of four has limited screen time, and has a higher incidence of shared screentime. Maybe, all and all, they view 50 hours a months, hypothetically.

Now, if you share it with your sister, she is watching 35-40, as are you. This goes without the possibility of your sister swapping that login for access to someone’s NetFlix.

sea ermine (#122)

@Morbo But don’t families with kids end up with a really large amount of screen time because when the kids are little they are watching children’s shows (which is separate from what the parents watch once the kids go to bed) and when the kids are older they don’t want to watch what their parents watch so you end up with 4 people all watching entirely different things.

I mean, I completely get what you’re saying but when I was in high school the amount of Netflix hours that my family watched (combined) didn’t seem that much smaller than the amount we watch now that my sister and I don’t live at home and pay our parents for our share of the service. And I don’t remember there being that much more shared screen time when I was a kid (at least not past elementary school) than there is now. I can’t see how it would be that different with friends in different households.

Morbo (#1,236)

@seaermine
The assumption we are dancing around:

-All Netflix content is equally valued. (We know it isn’t, but it depreciates pretty quickly, so we will assume it is)

-There is some limit to hours viewed where it is fair to the provider.

Sooner, rather than later, you will see a content throttle on these, similar to data usage on cell phones. Hopefully, sooner. I feel like I am the last one on this planet OK with the concept of paying a fair price for quality content.

sea ermine (#122)

@Morbo I’m ok with paying a fair price for quality content I just don’t think it’s fair that I can’t share a service between my friends or my family. I’d happily pay double (or more) for netflix to do that (just like I pay for a family plan and for twice as much data in order to share a cell phone plan with my sister).
I just think that if you are going to charge people to share it should also be for people in families or else it just turns in a way to punish single people for not having a spouse or a daughter they can split their netflix bill with.

If a couple and their kid spend 20 hours a month watching netflix a my best friend and I combined watch 20 hours a month watching netflix I shouldn’t have to pay more than that couple, just because I don’t live in the same house as my friend. I also have a hard time believing that a friend and I could watch more (combined) hours of netflix than a family of 4, which is why I don’t see why us sharing would cost netflix more than the way plenty of families all over the US share netflix..

Morbo (#1,236)

@seaermine

And the fairest way to do this would be choke points, like I described above.

The arguments I’m single/I’m young/My income is X are rationalizations for a behavior. I hardly use Netflix at all.
There are months that go by that all members of my household arejust too busy. Should I ask for a discount because of that?

Morbo (#1,236)

@seaermine

And the fairest way to do this would be choke points, like I described above.

The arguments I’m single/I’m young/My income is X are rationalizations for a behavior. I hardly use Netflix at all.
There are months that go by that all members of my household arejust too busy. Should I ask for a discount because of that?

sea ermine (#122)

@Morbo Also, if Netflix really feels like they are losing money from people who share their service they are more than welcome to create family plans or sharing plans (like with cell phones and family memberships at places like Costco). They could have a set rate of say $10 and then you pay an extra $2 to add a person (or whatever prices made sense for them). I’d be more than happy to pay for something like that.

Also, in the case of HBO Go I know tons of people who would be willing to pay for HBO Go but aren’t allowed to because they don’t have the right cable package. And yes, you could argue that those people should just pay more for cable and premium channels but when that cost comes along with a ton of other channels you don’t want HBO would probably do better just offering a $30 a month HBO Go only option. And yes, I realize there are other issues with this, due to whatever contracts they have with cable providers.

sea ermine (#122)

@Morbo I’m not at all against choke points, I just think it’s silly for companies to complain about people sharing their services if they are going to be too lazy to stop people from doing so or if they aren’t going bother to charge more for group services or create choke points.

Plus, given that “the network doesn’t view the sharing “as a pervasive problem at this time” I don’t think my original comment was that out of line.

And no, I don’t think you should ask for a discount because sometimes people in your household are to busy to watch tv. I mentioned the comparison to families because the article didn’t write just about people who share streaming services they wrote specifically about young people sharing services with non family members. And, unless you are sharing with 10 friends I have a really hard time believing that 3 young people sharing Netflix costs the company that much more than a family of 3 sharing netflix.

Morbo (#1,236)

It never ends well when the mantra is “Someone else will pay full price.”

cjm (#3,397)

I live with a roommate. We have on Hulu Plus subscription because we have one living room TV with Tivo. However, I also have a roku + tv in my room, a kindle fire, and she has an iPad. Are we cheating? No, because we are a household. I can watch the Daily show on the Kindle while she watches the Following on the tv. We hardly evern watch things together. We might as well live in different houses as far as Hulu is concerned.
The fastest way to fix this would be that only one of us could be logged in at a time. That would mean 2 friends couldn’t both watch at peak hours. Netflix’ cost on this is the bandwidth mostly, right? It wouldn’t eliminate the problem, but it would certainly make sharing less convenient. But that would make it a “personal” account and not a household account.

LHOOQ (#1,634)

What about sharing subscriptions for other content behind a paywall, such as magazines or newspapers? Unlike streaming services, bandwidth isn’t really an issue. My husband and I share a subscription to a newspaper behind a paywall, which I am pretty sure is ok because we’re one household, and if it was a physical paper we would only buy one. And, I get the impression that, as with the streaming services, account sharing in couples or families is not something that the publication is particularly worried about.

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