Monday, July 9, 2012, 11:01 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
In case you missed it while vacationing for July 4th, last week Netflix CEO Reed Hastings posted on his Facebook page that Netflix's streaming exceeded 1 billion hours for June, a new record for the company. BTIG's Rich Greenfield calculated that equates to approximately 2,388 viewing minutes per Netflix U.S. subscriber for the month (that's up from 2,000 minutes/mo which I calculated for Q4 '11). To put the June minutes in context, it's nearly double the average 1,315 minutes that the 180.5 million U.S. Internet subscribers each streamed in May, according to comScore's data.
Admittedly, it's a little bit of apples vs. oranges (comScore vs. Netflix internal data, May vs. June, free vs. paid, etc.), but assuming the numbers are at least in the ballpark, they demonstrate how thoroughly Netflix dominates in time spent per viewer vs. all other sites. For example, Netflix's 2,388 minutes/sub in June is more than 5x YouTube's 462.7 minutes/viewer in May and almost 10x Hulu's 253.7 minutes/viewer in May. Beyond YouTube and Hulu, the disparities become even more glaring; Netflix has 30x or greater viewing time of sites like Yahoo, VEVO, AOL and others.
All of this underscores a few important things. First, long-form content (which Netflix specializes in) is a huge driver of time spent. No matter how viral certain short-form videos or webisodes become, they simply can't aggregate to the durations of TV shows or movies. That's a lesson for other sites now pursuing episodic online originals - while they may gain a following, unless they expand to TV lengths, they're unlikely to impact total monthly time viewing much.
A second, related point is that premium content (or "professional" or "high-quality" or whatever you want to call it) - the staple of Netflix's library - has real drawing power. Viewers may like the goofy and offbeat videos which are widely circulated online, but when they settle in for an hour or more of viewing, it's for the good stuff. In other words, Netflix's access to high-quality libraries like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" and "SpongeBob" matters a lot.
While Netflix dominates online, as Rich pointed out in his post, when adjusted for distribution, Netflix would also be considered the most-watched TV network, outpacing all broadcast and cable networks. That of course raises another interesting point of whether Netflix subscribers are shifting their consumption away from traditional TV. That has happened in a big way in the Richmond household (though we skew to DVDs not streaming), and I suspect in plenty of others as well. That in turn leads to important questions around Netflix's ability to renew licenses for its most popular content, particularly kids, where TV viewership has been especially soft.
As VideoNuze readers know, I've been highly critical of Netflix's decision to de-emphasize DVDs in favor of streaming over the past year. I continue to stand by those arguments, and believe that Netflix would be a dramatically stronger company today had it maintained its leadership in DVDs, while also promoting streaming. Nevertheless, the billion hours in June is a testament to Netflix's streaming efforts and the durability of its brand. When the company reports its Q2 results in 2 weeks, we'll learn more about other important performance metrics, including subscriber acquisition, still the most-watched one of all.
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