Commentary

Password? Who Cares?

Quoting from an IBM Cloud Service study, eMarketer says that two-thirds of adults now have some type of subscription video-on-demand service (think: Netflix), most of which are exploring video advertising to add to their revenues.

Unfortunately, about three-quarters of those polled felt any type of ad reduced the viewing experience, and six in 10 said that more-targeted ads would still have a negative effect on their use of streaming services.

Yet an astounding glimpse into the obvious: Consumers don't like ads that delay the start of -- or interrupt -- their content. They will say the same about TV and radio and digital ads because, well, publishers have long decided that ad dollars were more important than the consumer experience. All of that talk about cutting back the ad load is coming from those who vastly overloaded their programming to begin with. There is no real reform in the air.

But buried in the story was this tidbit: The survey found that nearly half of streaming service subscribers share their password with family members. To which I would add, "and the other half is lying."

It's a national sport to share passwords that get friends and family behind pay walls. After all, it's hard to feel sorry for a company like Netflix, which, in spite of all the password-sharing, pulled down close to $ 11 billion in sales last year, thanks in part to raising its prices. Though sharing passwords has technically been a federal crime since 2016, nearly all password-protected content players like Netflix and HBO claim they don't really mind that their consumers do this.

These companies look at password-sharing as a form of product sampling. In fact, Netflix's Reed Hastings told TechCrunch a while ago that people who piggyback on a user’s account often go on to become paying members themselves.

HBO even allows some college students to use HBO Go and HBO Now for free, with the idea that exposure increases the likelihood these students will eventually become paying viewers.

It seems a little a paradoxical to have streaming services say, "Yeah, go ahead and share our content," then say they want more revenue -- especially from advertising. I suspect there's no easy technical way for them to stop password-sharing, so they just pretend to shrug it off.

The problem is that we are training our kids to beat the system and to expect to find a workaround to nearly everything behind a pay wall.  I can't tell you how often I have offered to send my kids something interesting to read or watch online only to have them say, "I can find it, no problem."  ESPECIALLY if it is involves entertainment that's technically supposed to be paid for.  They just laugh and say, "Oh Dad," as if it should be entirely obvious there's nothing they can't get online for free with a little networking or past experience.

But where do you draw the line? Is it OK to pass around passwords to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? How about Spotify and Pandora? Or XM Radio? They hacked porn sites a long time ago (and besides, porn seem so last century by now, since they have "personalized" video being sent by phone all the time.) To kids, passwords aren't a barrier, they are a momentary challenge.

I tend to pay for my subscriptions to online content. But, like in so many other respects, I suspect I am a dying breed.

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