11 Million People in the U.S. Used Streaming Services Illicitly Last Year, Study Shows

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Over the past year, 95 million people in the U.S. used a major streaming service, 68 million were self-paying, 25 million had access through a family plan, 13 million were on a free trial, and nearly 11 million were “mooching,” or sharing a log-in that was not from an authorized family plan.

Among paid subscribers who don’t use a family plan, one in three — 32% — share their login with someone else. The study shows that such sharing is more pervasive among Millennials aged 25-44, with 44 percent giving out a log-in. It estimates that in theory, those 10.7 million “moochers” would be worth $995 million, strictly based on numbers, but that’s acting on the highly unrealistic assumption that each of those 10.7 million people would pay for a subscription service if their free access were cut off. The study says that approximately 30% of those people would switch to a paid service, while the remainder would move to ad-supported.

These numbers come from MusicWatch’s Monitor series of consumer research conducted during 2019.

Other findings in the study — not that it’s very surprising to confirm that many subscribers are illicitly sharing their music subscription log-ins — include:

*Stricter enforcement would likely lead to some conversion to new accounts, but most would revert to ad-supported (i.e. free) options — in other words, attempts to penalize violators largely would be counterproductive;

*There is an opportunity to improve consumer understanding of the ground rules;

*Artists and other rights holders need to help with messaging to overcome a lack of consumer understanding, and perhaps a lack of empathy, around account sharing.

The study also suggests that streaming services can be clearer about the details of their subscription plans. Along with some confusion about how family plans work, one in five of the surveyed users who share premium services from Apple, Pandora or Spotify believe that their service does not offer a family plan; all three companies actually do.

After explaining the key features of family plans, 57 percent of respondents expressed interest in upgrading. Account sharers believe that family plans deliver good value and they like the idea of separate log-ins and playlists for each user. Only 10 percent think, “it is only fair that they pay for each user on a service.”

However, the transgressions aren’t as widespread as they might at first seem. According to the study, 73 percent of family plan account holders share with spouses, partners or significant others residing in the same home; 44 percent share with children residing in the same home; 22 percent are sharing with children or family members who do not live at home; only 4 percent share with friends who don’t live in the same home.