Do I Really Watch That Much Netflix? Don't Ask

Over the holidays, I was at my in-laws, and we started discussing various TV shows, recommending different series to one another.  I started realizing most of the shows I recommended were on Netflix.  Could I actually be watching more Netflix than any traditional network?  It sure didn’t seem that way.

When I think of all the Netflix shows I’ve watched in the past 12 months, however -- full seasons of “House of Cards,” “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Longmire,” “Stranger Things,” “Black Mirror,” “The Crown,” the complete first season of “30 Rock,” some random episodes of my favorite former network series, and at least half a dozen movies -- I realize I’ve streamed well over 100 hours.  I don’t think I’ve spent that much time watching any single broadcast or cable network.  

Perceptions can be misleading, because when I watch Netflix I am generally binge-watching 10 to 13 episodes over two or three days.  My traditional TV viewing is much more spread out.  



For example, my wife and I just watched 10 episodes of “The Crown” on Netflix over three nights.  It would take two weeks for us to watch that many programs on any regular network.  As I’m writing this, I’m watching the last few episodes of the first season of “Iron Fist” (13 episodes), which I started watching two days ago.  

If you would have asked me to list the networks I watch most often, Netflix would not be among them.  I watch CBS much more frequently, but over the course of a year, I may spend more time watching Netflix.

This is one reason why surveys that ask people how much time they spend with various media are generally gibberish.  

I was fortunate to co-chair the committee on the Counsel for Research Excellence that commissioned and oversaw the landmark Video Consumer Mapping (VCM) study. This research provided the unique ability to compare observation to self-reported data for exactly the same people on exactly the same days.

The day after people’s actual media usage was observed, they were asked how much time they spent with each medium. In the study, people tended to understate their TV viewing by about 25% and overstated their Internet and mobile video usage by more than 75%.

Ball State, which helped conduct the VCM study, videotaped a series of follow-up interviews.  One 20something man was asked about his iPhone use. He figured he spent two to three hours per day with the device.  Observation, however, confirmed that the total was actually 24 minutes — and he knew he had been closely observed just the day before he was asked these questions.  People simply do not accurately remember how much time they spend with various media.

So, how much Netflix do subscribers watch?  A lot.  But if you ask them, they’ll likely dramatically understate their time spent viewing, just as I did.  If you’ve binge-watched an entire season of a show over a couple of days six months ago, it is more likely to fade into your memory than if you regularly watch a show every week.

7 comments about "Do I Really Watch That Much Netflix? Don't Ask".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 29, 2017 at 3:06 p.m.

    I suppose the key to accurate measurement is not asking how much time people have spent watching but to provide an aided recall list of shows that respondents can estimate how many episodes they watched. People don't remember hours as well as they remember which shows they completed.

  2. Robin Donovan from Bozell, March 29, 2017 at 3:34 p.m.

    I think a more likely scenario for understating TV viewership while overstating Internet and mobile video usage is embarrassment rather than lack of ability to gauge. Let's face it, try quoting a line from any TV viewing (other than PBS) at a dinner party and listen as one or two guests are quick to apologetically yet proudly exclaim that they "have no time to watch TV." Irrelevant to them is that fact that you haven't asked them. They just wait for the opportunity to enlighten everyone on their lack of viewership because it's tantamount to a proclamation that they are cooler than you are. But being on the Internet or using a mobile device is still cool. 

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, March 29, 2017 at 3:38 p.m.

    Major Broadacsters have been selling less audience for more $$$ the past three decades.
    The Upfronts and Nielsen proclaim everything is alright yet the 18-49 audience is somehere else and they contantly pick on NetFlix to release audience numbers when its a paid- subscription model. 

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 29, 2017 at 4:18 p.m.

    It's called inflation, LZ. Everywhere you go, for almost all of the products you buy or use, you are paying more for the same thing or for a smaller amount---remember those nice big yogurt containers thirty years ago?---now they are half the size but cost as much or more---and consumers buy. Why? because consumers make more money than before so most of them go with the flow. It's the same thing with advertisers. They sell more products at higher prices in a country whose population keeps swelling---albeit slower than before---so they have more ad dollars to spend---and they spend them----just like today's yogurt fans.

  5. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, March 29, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.

    That's primarily because the very nature of the upfront rewards only network standings and are measured by cpm increases.  Actual rating gains or losses is not part of the buying-selling equation.  Ridiculous sounding, but true nonetheless.

  6. Patricia McDonough from nielsen, March 30, 2017 at 7:46 a.m.

    We did a study about 5 years ago showing that Netflix was the top network in terms of hours of use for their subscribers. Don't know if they have updated it recently but it was a pretty clear win

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 30, 2017 at 9:13 a.m.

    Pat, I keep a close watch on the subject of Netflix usage and my most recent estimate is that it's subscribers devote more than twice as much time to Netflix content as those who can receive a typical broadcast network do on an all daypart basis. However, this is a bit misleading as just under half of all TV homes get Netflix whereas something like 97% get a typical broadcast network's fare. So, if one calculates the tonnage estimates across the total TV population, it works out something like this. Netflix probably accounts for 6.5-7% of all viewing time per adult, while a typical figure for a fully programmed broadcast TV network is only 4-5%, not counting any additional viewing attained by digital means. Hopefully, one day Nielsen will start publishing such topline estimates and include sex, age income and other demos. Why? Because even though Netflix does not, as yet, sell ads, its viewing tonnage is part of the much larger TV viewing pie and has an impact on the results for channels that do sell ads.

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