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

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

Gwen Ifill PBS
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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).