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.