When Netflix announced last month that it had lost subscribers for the first time in two decades, it suggested that password sharing could be behind the issue and doubled down on an earlier promise to crack down on the practice. At the time, it seemed like a rather feeble argument for a huge paradigm shift.
But recent evidence suggests Netflix may have been right. A new study from Attest, a consumer research platform that tracks consumer behavior across multiple media, including streaming, finds that despite the drop in subscriptions, Netflix isn’t seeing any decline in users. In fact, it’s the opposite.
During first quarter, the Quarterly US Media Consumption Tracker found Netflix actually had the biggest growth in regular users of any streaming service. The percent of people watching the service at least once a week rose by 2.8 percentage points, rising to 71.2 percent of working-age Americans.
That despite a reported loss of 200,000 subscribers in first quarter, which sparked headlines speculating over whether the U.S. was headed for a streaming shakeout, a prediction that gained steam when CNN+ shuttered just hours after. The Attest study notes that password sharing could be behind the dichotomy between user gains and subscriber losses.
“According to Netflix, more than 30 million households are using a shared password, and this might be one of the biggest reasons as to why overall usage of the platform has held up, despite it shedding paid subscribers in the U.S.,” says Jeremy King, CEO and founder of Attest.
The study notes that other platforms saw declines in usage, including Amazon Prime, one of Netflix’s longest-lived competitors, as well as new rivals HBO Max and Disney+. Attest said Amazon Prime dropped 5.2 percentage points in weekly viewers, to 41.3%, significantly trailing the 71.2 percent who use Netflix weekly.
Meanwhile, Disney+ (32.4%) and HBO Max (26.4%) trailed by even more, and each saw a decline of at least 2.2 percentage points.
Yet the number of overall hours Americans spent binge watching TV actually rose in first quarter, up 2.9 percentage points for those watching at least six hours of TV and up 2.2% among those watching up to four hours. The report notes the rise could be attributed to world events, with the attack on Ukraine and a COVID surge driving viewership for news programs.
“While binge watching of all types of TV crept up over the quarter, other paid-for streaming services experienced a reduction in weekly users, an ominous sign that is perhaps explained by the wider economic situation, especially the cost-of-living crisis,” King notes.
Indeed, Netflix raised prices in first quarter, at a time when Americans were worried about a potential recession and decades-high inflation rates.
“In a separate piece of research conducted by Attest, we found that 51.1% of Americans say they’re feeling the effect of inflation on their life to a high or very high degree, while 36.6% are feeling it to a moderate degree. People are having to cut back: nearly half of Americans say they’re pulling back on non-essentials like clothes and meals out, while 34% are cutting back on basics like food and fuel. This is bound to translate into canceled subscriptions, so all platforms are at risk,” King says.
Password sharing is, of course, a way to continue watching favorite shows without paying for them. While the phenomenon is difficult to prove, it seems likely that’s at least somewhat in play here.