Ever Wonder What Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Subscribers Watch? Take A Look

Gwen Ifill PBS
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

SVOD's biggest superstar is...PBS' Gwen Ifill?! That and more streaming oddities

To the eternal frustration of the TV industry, subscriber VOD companies Netflix, Hulu and Amazon don’t publicly reveal much information about what their customers watch on TV.

But some new data culled from a January 2014 survey of the TiVo Power||Watch Panel may be the next best thing.

Analysts Bill Harvey and Alex Petrilli posted some interesting charts on MediaBizBloggers.com  that identify the TV networks and TV series that over-index with a segment of subs from each of the leading U.S. SVOD players (see below) on pay TV. And while it’s not quite the holy grail — what are the most popular shows on the streaming services themselves? — there’s some interesting but somewhat mystifying trends regarding what these subs are watching on pay TV when they’re not streaming.

SVOD subs LOVE Gwen Ifill.

Who could have ever guessed that the venerable PBS news program “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill” would be a top attraction on pay TV to SVOD subs? And yet not only is “Ifill” the only series that appears on all three top 10 lists, but she’s no. 2 on both Netflix and Amazon’s lists.

What’s even odder is that news programs don’t exactly dominate these lists, though PBS commands the top three positions on Amazon’s list and three of the top 5 on Netflix’s. However, some of the PBS entries are arts showcases, not hard news like Ifill. CNN and Fox News Channel don’t crack any of these top 10 lists (MSNBC has one on Amazon’s).

So when it comes time to renegotiate your PBS contract, Gwen, rest assured you can probably leverage a counteroffer from an SVOD service.

That AMC is the most popular network among Netflix subs makes sense. Nothing else does. 

What little Netflix has said about what’s popular on its service is that its full libraries of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead” perform strongly, so it makes perfect sense that these catalogues would drive its subs back to AMC to watch new episodes. Ditto for NBC’s “Parks & Recreation,” which is also Netflix’s list.

But then these lists defy comprehension with a a seemingly random hodgepodge of middling performers from all over cable. The most popular TV shows from a Nielsen ratings perspective barely register on these lists. No “Big Bang Theory,” “The Voice,” “NCIS,” nada. Broadcasters besides PBS don’t crack Amazon’s or Hulu’s lists at all. Even cable’s biggest shows aren’t on this list.

Showtime makes two top 10s but HBO is nowhere to be found? Where’s ESPN, Disney Channel and USA?

What does it mean that viewers watch shows on TV nothing like what’s on their SVOD supplier?

My assumption would have been that SVOD subs are so wild about serialized dramas and kids programming that they are in high demand on both SVOD and linear TV. But if these charts are correct, these category have grown so successful at super-serving this kind of series to their subs that they don’t even watch much of either genre back on linear TV. Pay TV packages seems to be primarily used for what SVOD doesn’t focus on as much, like unscripted shows that aren’t as binge-friendly as dramas, or news programming, which SVOD has no use for at all.

All in all, it’s hard to imagine what SVOD services would do with this kind of data to make decisions about what to license and produce as original programming.

Postscript: As the comments below indicate, there’s some reader confusion as to what these stats measure. So to reiterate: The numbers pertain to what SVOD subs watch on pay TV (not on the SVOD services themselves).

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  1. Animals says:

    The thing about online streaming is people do not watch networks, they watch shows..they can personalize/customize their entertainment experience so its very inaccurate to compare networks.

  2. Kim Ann Taylor says:

    Network television and PBS aren’t technically ‘Pay TV’. To me it makes sense that PBS is towards the top… they have quality shows which anyone can get with a digital antennae. No subscription required.

  3. BK R says:

    Reblogged this on Roedeo Productions and commented:
    Sure, Gwen Ifill gets the headline….but check out the “Over The Top” performances by other PBS programs too…including, i’m happy to say, “Great Performances!”

  4. JSinTheStates says:

    No, you have severely skewed data!

    We have AppleTV with a HuluPlus subscription. This gives us access to most broadcast, since we cut off the TV Cable.

    Our Hulu viewing includes: Castle, Cosmos, Grimm, and Sleepy Hollow! We get our PBS directly from PBS’s AppleTV App, and iTunes!

  5. Sarah C. says:

    Your report doesn’t surprise me at all. Netflix’s greatest strength is its independent films and documentaries. So- if people are drawn to independent films and documentaries; they are most likely drawn to PBS as well. Also, just as an FYI…HBO programs are not available through Netflix streaming or Hulu. And- they only recently became available to Amazon (for an additional price.) Also- you mentioned Big Bang Theory. It is also not available on Netflix streaming or Hulu. It is no accident that the networks you mentioned as in the top 10 are ranked so. It is because they are ones who make their material most available. Just an FYI…

  6. aryedirect says:

    So is the unspoken concept to sell us multiple devices with multiple subscriptions in order to approximate the dozen or so channels we like watching? If so, the cable monopoly will continue to hijack larger and larger amounts from us each year. We need a better way!

  7. daviddoughan says:

    Okay let;s just say I wanted to watch NCIS on Hulu . . . oh wait I cannot. Game of Thrones. Nope. The Closer? Nope! Shitty reporting. Paint by numbers article. To hammer home this point . . .my favorite show might be Sports Center on cable but Sherlock is ON ANOTHER CHANNEL.

  8. Scootergoose says:

    Here’s my take: Network ratings are bogus extrapolations based on very limited data. There is no reasonable way any network can track who watches what accurately. It’s a longstanding fraud that advertisers are catching on to.

    VOD via whatever service one chooses is entirely measurable, hence the disconnect.

  9. Betty Hopper says:

    Ok, so I hope all these people are ALSO PBS members with monthly donations. Ifill is the best.

  10. lizbusby says:

    I personally avoid shows on live TV that aren’t available on Hulu or Netflix. I don’t want to be tied down to watching at a certain slot every week and just out of luck if I miss it. Shows that give me more chances to catch up online earn a better portion of my time.

  11. I personally would love to have access to the BBC channels. I know many others who would as well. BBCAmerica is an extremely poor substitute, for example they are showing Star Trek now. Ridiculous. I was under the impression that it was going to be made available to us on iPads for a monthly fee, but BBCA put the kibosh on that plan. I find most American shows to be rubbish.

  12. Alternateview says:

    And that’s the point. We have choices of how to view content now. Just because we don’t watch these shoes on SVOD doesn’t mean we don’t watch them.

  13. samaelsmile says:

    In addition to what Rob notes, HBO isn’t yet on any of these services and won’t be on Amazon until next week, so it kinda makes sense they wouldn’t show up. These are pretty commonly known facts.

    Some interesting notes in here, but next time do some research, Andrew. You’re the digital Editor-in-Chief for Variety, for Christ’s sake. You should know better.

    • You totally misunderstood what was clearly explained in the story: These shows are what SVOD subscribers watch ON PAY TV, not on the streaming services themselves. HBO not being on Amazon is totally irrelevant.

  14. Ron says:

    Since CBS doesn’t license its shows (Big Bang etc) why in the world would the writer be confused about why they don’t appear? Seems to me the writer here is confused about a great many of the underlying circumstances and that this article is therefore total rubbish.

    • Ron, you totally misunderstood what was clearly explained in the story: These shows are what SVOD subscribers watch ON PAY TV, not on the streaming services themselves. CBS not licensing to Hulu has nothing to do with this.

  15. aryedirect says:

    Not yet a subscriber, I would love to see a comparative listing of what television shows each service offers.

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