Netflix has seen the amount of video its subscribers watch drastically increase over the past few months: In the fourth quarter, Netflix announced that it had topped 2 billion viewing hours during the three month period. Then, in June, it reached a billion viewing hours in that month alone. But what are viewers watching? According to research firm Nielsen, the growth in video viewing at the streaming provider coincides with an increase in the percentage of subscribers who are relying on Netflix to watch TV shows.
Nielsen reports that, according to a recent survey, the number of subscribers who prefer to use the service primarily for TV viewing has increased from 11 percent in 2011 to 19 percent this year. That increase has come mainly at the expense of users who rely on Netflix for movie viewing, which fell from 53 percent in 2011 to 47 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the number who watch TV and movies and TV has largely remained flat, at 35 percent in 2012 compared to 36 percent the year prior.
That’s a pretty drastic shift in behavior, but it makes sense when you think about it:
- The average American watches about five hours of TV. If a growing number of Netflix subscribers are using the service as a complement to traditional TV, or *god forbid* a live TV replacement, it’s less surprising that each household would consume more than an hour of Netflix a day.
- Netflix users loooooove to binge watch TV. Unlike traditional TV, where they’re forced to wait a week in between episodes, new viewers can pick a show, start on Season 1, Episode 1, and stream a full season to their hearts’ content.
- Subtle design tweaks have made it easier than ever to get lost in a full season of TV. Once a viewer has finished one episode of a show, the user interface on most streaming devices will prompt users to watch the next episode, leading to a near-continuous viewing experience.
- Netflix has spent the last several years investing heavily in TV shows. That includes a wide range of shows that viewers know and love from other TV networks — popular serialized stuff like Lost, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad — but increasingly it also includes original programming. Only the first of those original shows (Lilyhammer) has appeared so far, but soon we’ll also see Kevin Spacey and David Fincher’s House of Cards, as well as the return of Arrested Development.
- Netflix’s movie selection hasn’t improved dramatically over the past few years. If anything, with the loss of its Starz Play deal, which gave it access to movies from Disney and Sony Pictures, the movie selection has gotten worse.
- More users than ever are watching Netflix content on actual TVs and TV-connected devices. That includes game consoles like the Xbox 360, Roku streaming boxes, and of course, a growing number of TVs with a Netflix app pre-loaded.
Oh, and let’s not forget — with the price of cable continuing ever-increasing, and retransmission spats like those between Dish Network and AMC and DirecTV and Viacom driving more people to consume TV shows online, I expect the trend of TV viewing on Netflix streaming to keep on keeping on.