As Netflix pivots, American attitudes shift to owning digital assets, not just streaming them

On a day when Netflix said it would launch an ad-supported service with Microsoft, it would appear the streaming world may, in fact, be poised to compete in popularity terms, as consumers begin to realise they can own digital assets, not merely rent or stream them.

Based on a new survey of 2,000 Americans (so statistically relevant), a new study found that 77% of Americans would rather own digital content and assets than just rent or stream. Indeed, some 28% are now spending more than $49 a month on digital assets that they actually own, such as digital art, music and in-game items.

Does this represent a shift away from the streaming era as exemplified by Spotify and Netflix, toward an era of ownership? It’s clearly still too early to tell definitively, and let’s face it, a movie is very different to a Fortnite in-game skin. But there is a whiff of changing attitudes in this survey.

Suffice it to say that the survey, commissioned by blockchain-driven metaverse platform Virtua and assessed academically, uncovered a strong attachment to owning digital assets. The majority of those surveyed who had purchased digital items (65%) valued them the same level “as or more” than physical items. And three-quarters (78%) felt “emotionally attached” to them.

The majority of those who purchased digital items (61%) also preferred to receive a digital item (NFT or in-game “skins”) as a gift rather than a physical one. According to the survey, this is in part because digital assets were perceived as better for the environment (38% thought this), although whether they were aware about the energy costs in — for instance — minting NFTs was not expanded on.

Commenting in a statement, Jawad Ashraf, CEO, Virtua said: “The ‘possessions’ we will own and take into the metaverse – are evolving. With the introduction of Web 3.0, the meteoric rise of digital collectibles and the dawn of the Metaverse, we will value our digital items more than ever before.”

Furthermore, 70% said they “connect better” via digital items than physical ones, while 89% said losing these assets would be upsetting.

Americans also like to own digital items because they “remind them of important moments in their lives (87%)” and “help create the perception of who they want to be” (73%).

Commenting, Dr Janice Denegri-Knott, Professor in Consumer Culture & Behavior at Bournemouth University, said the survey found that more people are attached to their digital items than was previously thought.

“Virtua’s inaugural digital ownership report is based on the largest ever intergenerational survey of its kind… Some people assume we view digital ownership as less advantageous or desirable when compared to physical ownership but the findings of this study suggest otherwise,” she said.

“There is a growing acceptance of digital ownership with lines between owning digital and physical goods becoming blurred, in particular for younger cohorts,” she added.

The research also revealed different generations view digital assets and other digital items differently. Nine in 10 (90%) of millennials (ages 24-42) feel emotionally attached to digital items, while three quarters (74%) view them as a good investment.

They also say their digital identity is “important” (80%), or “very important” (47%).

Meanwhile, the younger Gen Z group (aged 16-23) is the most active, with 30% selling digital items and 20% trading them. More than half (52%) of all Gen Z Americans said they buy, sell or trade digital items.

The research was conducted by Censuswide, which surveyed 2,000 respondents aged 16+ in the USA, based on the ESOMAR survey principles.

Virtua is the new rebrand name for Terra Virtua, a blockchain-driven VR entertainment Platform that has raised $2.5 million to date, according to Crunchbase, and plans the launch of its own digital-assets driven Metaverse.