Shared Streaming: Is It Your New Thing?

4 years ago

I was fascinated by a recent article in The New York Times, No TV? No Subscription? No Problem that explained how many people stream TV shows and movies to their devices using shared passwords or shared accounts on sites like HBO Go and Netflix.

A recent streaming choice from the family thespian

The Times article described how a group of friends all watched the premier of "Game of Thrones" on the same evening via HBO Go but only some of them had accounts there. The others were logging in using the passwords of friends.

This story caught my eye because my son and I share a Netflix account. That means that sometimes one or the other of us log in from my house, or from his house, or from somewhere totally not our own homes to watch movies and TV shows. I've logged with no problem in from my daughter's house in Texas and while sitting in airports.

I often open up Neflix and get a good laugh because the "top 10 recommendations for you" are such a mashup of tastes. Netflix might recommend a Japanese anime cartoon series (my granddaughter likes these) or a macho action flick (my son likes these) or an independent drama with a strong female lead (guess who likes these).

What does this mean to the companies like HBO Go and Netflix who have a business model that depends on paid subscriptions? Do they plan to crack down on people who share accounts the way my son and I do?

According to New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham, who spoke to some of the companies,

. . . the companies with whom I spoke seemed to have little to no interest in curbing our sharing behavior — in part because they can’t. They have little ability to track and curtail their customers who are sharing account information, according to Jeff Cusson, senior vice president for corporate affairs at HBO. And, he said, the network doesn’t view the sharing “as a pervasive problem at this time.”

In fact, some companies don't allow shared streaming, meaning two different users cannot stream music or movies at the same time. Spotify and Hulu Plus are examples of this technique. I don't know about your household, but I can imagine families where three or four people with three or four devices in three or four different rooms of the house all want to use the same service at the same time. Restrictions on streaming would rankle in situations like this.

When my granddaughter spends the night at my house, she may be in the bedroom watching something from Netflix on her computer, while I'm in the living room watching something from Netflix on my TV. If that wasn't possible, Netflix would really be of no use to me. The reason we can do this is because I don't have the streaming only plan at Netflix. Digital Trends reported on how Netflix explained their policy about shared streaming, and it applies to some accounts but not others. According to this article,

The volume of devices that can access Netflix streaming is dependent on the current plan. If a Netflix user is on the 2-disc-at-a-time plan in addition to paying for streaming service, that account can access content on two different devices at the same time. However, these combo packages start at $19.98 and range up to $29.98 for four discs with streaming. Consumers also have the option of purchasing multiple streaming subscriptions to increase the number of devices that can access streaming content at an additional cost of $7.99 per account.

It also makes a difference whether you are streaming movies or TV shows.

I'm of two minds about this. If I'm paying for a service, I should be able to let my family share it with me. But I also understand that companies have to have a way to collect subscription dollars from people who use their services if they are going to survive. Would setting up higher priced accounts that allow more users to stream simultaneously be the answer for all providers, not just Netflix?

Are you using shared streaming? What's your take on the future of this practice?

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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