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Why Netflix Viewing Isn’t Comparable to Cablers

Streamer delivered 4 billion-plus hours of vid in Q1, topper Hastings says

Netflix users now watch as much video per month as they do on the largest cable nets, including Disney Channel, according to one Wall Street analyst — although the comparison is somewhat bogus, given that Netflix is not an ad-supported “network.”

Based on new figures supplied by Netflix, the company streamed more than 87 minutes per day per subscriber in the first three months of 2013, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a research note. Adjusted for U.S. household distribution, that would make Netflix “essentially in line” with Mouse’s Disney Channel, according to the analyst.

But the comparison is apples and oranges. Greenfield’s analysis ignores on-demand and online views of traditional nets; that’s smaller than time spent watching live TV, but it’s growing. Also, cable nets are paid based on total household reach, selling ads against ratings. Netflix revenue is fixed at sub numbers too but company does not carry ads, so usage is indicator only of its relative popularity.

In addition, Netflix charges more ($7.99 monthly) than any single cablenet earns in carriage fees, although premium nets like HBO and Showtime are typically more than Netflix.

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BTIG’s estimate is based on Netflix topper Reed Hastingspost on his public Facebook page, claiming that Internet-vid subs watched more than 4 billion streaming hours worldwide in the first quarter. On Wednesday, Netflix alerted the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would potentially disclose material non-public info on social media sites, after agency said it wouldn’t pursue enforcement action against Netflix and Hastings for possible rule violations following a similar FB post last June.

In the year-ago post, however, Hastings said that with the addition of exclusive content, service would “blow… away” its 1 billion hours per month delivered as of mid-2012. Greenfield said the updated figure shows Netflix usage hasn’t soared as it projected: “We would be hard pressed to call it blowing away prior stats at this point,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, compared with the whale of traditional TV, Netflix is still a minnow: The average American household watched 156 hours and 24 minutes monthly in the fourth quarter of 2012, which nets out to more than 5 hours per day, according to Nielsen.

Netflix offers full seasons of hundreds of TV shows from broadcasters and cablers. However, those deals typically are for prior-season content or include a window delay after skeins air on traditional TV.

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