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Netflix U.S. Viewing to Surpass ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC by 2016: Analysts

If Netflix were a Nielsen-rated TV network, the No. 1 streaming service would, within a year, attain a larger 24-hour audience than each of the major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — according to a Wall Street analyst firm.

To be clear, the analysis by FBR Capital Markets is not apples-to-apples. One major caveat: Nielsen TV ratings cover, at most, up to seven days of VOD and DVR viewing — and exclude online-video views, which networks say are an increasing part of the pie. Moreover, TV networks provide a different blend of content, such as live sports, that Netflix doesn’t. And anyway, Netflix doesn’t care about “ratings” of individual shows, given that it doesn’t sell ads and has steadfastly refused to disclose anything but general data about viewing.

But according to FBR analysts Barton Crockett and Chase White, the comparison is meant to be a barometer of the relative popularity of Netflix to traditional TV nets. The trajectory of Netflix users’ hours spent viewing illustrates the company’s growing market power, not just in the U.S. but internationally, they said.

The data highlights “Netflix’s domestic rise and dominance, bolstering confidence in its ability to grow subs and charge more domestically and to replicate its success in key markets around the world,” the analysts wrote in a research note.

Here’s how the analysts did the math: Netflix said users streamed about 10 billion hours of video in Q1 2015, equating to nearly two hours per subscriber per day. The FBR analysts calculated what Netflix’s Nielsen rating would be by dividing the two-hour figure by 24 hours, then multiplying that by the number of Netflix U.S. subs as a percentage of households.

That would give Netflix an overall rating in Q1 of 2.6, on par with ABC and NBC. And given that Netflix is growing usage at a compound annual growth rate of more than 40% — while broadcasters are on average declining — that means the streamer will have a larger 24-hour audience in one year than any broadcast network.

Another data point called out by FBR’s analysts: When consumers were asked if they had to choose between Netflix and a cable or satellite TV subscription, 57% picked Netflix, with 43% opting for pay TV, according to a survey FBR conducted with ClearVoice Research in April.

“Netflix subscribers clearly like it more than pay TV, which we see as arguing for pricing leverage, since pay TV, on average, costs over $80 per month,” the analysts wrote, citing Netflix’s average $8 price point.

In addition, the FBR team noted that Netflix in 2015 is expected to spend nearly $2 billion on U.S. content rights (and about that much internationally). That would make Netflix’s U.S. content spending bigger than HBO, Showtime Networks or Starz, as well as Fox’s and Disney’s non-news/non-sports cable channels, according to the analysts, citing SNL Kagan data. But the broadcast nets, as well as Viacom and Turner Networks (excluding CNN), still spend more on programming rights in the U.S.

There’s no doubt Netflix will continue to flex its muscles — building on its 62 million-plus worldwide subscriber base as of the end of March. The only question is how much, and how quickly, the company will disrupt the current TV biz.

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