People Sharing Netflix, Hulu, Cable Passwords with, You Guessed It, Millennials in the Lead

August 20, 2018, 10:17 PM UTC

Millennials have ruined most everything, according to news reports, so why not kill video-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, too?

People aged around 22 to 36 are the most likely to share their passwords paid streaming services, according to new data shared by an executive from media-research company Magid on CNBC.

Jill Rosengard Hill told CNBC that her company’s research shows 35% of those classified as millennials share passwords, while only 19% of Gen Xers, and 13% of Baby Boomers do so. Among the up and coming generation, 21 and younger, the number rises to 42%, although many of them gain access via their parents’ accounts.

The overall numbers have increased over time, based on research reports issued on a regular basis. In 2015, Parks Associates said that 10% of U.S. households with broadband used a streaming-service account belonging to someone outside the household, with 18 to 24 year olds making up 22%. In July 2017, the overall number was 12% of all adults, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, and just 21% of 18 to 24 years olds.

But does this translate into lost revenue for Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and à la carte cable channels that allow free online and app access to those with a cable or satellite subscription? There’s no agreement about the cost. Executives at various companies have said consistently over the years that it has no significant impact, even as research firms calculate what those shared accounts would cost if paid for.

As long ago as 2013, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said on an investor call that he didn’t think passwords were shared among people who barely knew each other. HBO’s CEO in 2014 said HBO Go account sharing had “no impact on the business.” In 2016, Netflix’s CFO said at a conference that cracking down wouldn’t necessarily lead to converting account sharers to paid users.

Cracking down on account sharing isn’t a tough technical problem. Streaming services put stronger limits in place to prevent using services across geographically-based copyright licensing boundaries, like North America or the European Union, as well as at a country level.

This worked to varying extents by the service and the effort expended by users to circumvent limits. But account-based tracking is far more straightforward, as streaming-video providers have precise information about the regular patterns employed by account holders, and could require additional verification for logins at unusual locations or for usage separate by large distances.