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Week In Review: Oprah Shows The Power Of Live, Netflix Cracks Down On Password Sharing

1. Oprah Shows The Power Of Live

Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan (no one involved seems to need a last name) drew a record 17.1 million viewers to CBS, blowing away the audiences for the Emmys (6.4 million) and the Golden Globes (6.9 million.) One can speculate as to the reasons so many Americans are fascinated by the British Royal Family (Netflix’s The Crown probably didn’t hurt) but Oprah’s interviewing skills, long missing from TV, were on full display and that alone was enough to drive tune-in.

Why It Matters

The shift to streaming doesn’t mean that live events and live TV are dead. Streaming is, after all, just a delivery system.

That said, this event was only available via CBS on broadcast and cable and I was far from the only one to wonder why CBS did not also run the interview on its new Paramount+ service, given that one of the more heavily promoted features of that service is the ability to watch your local CBS channel live (provided you have the $10/month version)

No idea what was behind that decision other than lawyers and rights deals and the possibility that Oprah’s people wanted all the viewers on CBS where Nielsen could easily count them. (The ratings did result in a huge PR coup.)

The success of the interview shows that there is still quite an appetite for live programming, provided there’s something special about it and that it’s infrequent enough not to become a bother.

I’d also add that the interview was not something that was easily followed in real time on social media, something I think goes a long way to explain the falling ratings for awards shows and sporting events. If I can find out who won “Best Supporting Actor” on Twitter in something close to real time (along with a clip of the acceptance speech) then there’s no reason to sit through stilted jokes and bad Zoom connections.

Whereas with Oprah and her interview, there weren’t really any dead zones.

On a macro level, it shows that there is still a desire for the sort of universally shared moments that TV can provide (even if they are ad-supported) and for programming that takes our minds off politics and pandemics.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re VCBS, you’ll want to double down on the promos you’re doing around March Madness and Paramount+. That seems like a good fit too, as you have an audience who may be done with paying $100/month for cable but doesn’t want to give up live sports, and you can show them the path out from darkness.

If you’re one of the other Flixes, consider making live events part of your overall programming strategy. They’re good for creating buzz, for bringing people together and for reminding everyone that (as noted above) streaming is just another type of delivery system and doesn’t have to only mean “on demand.”

If you’re an advertiser, live events have very large, very engaged audiences who are unlikely (or unable) to start flipping channels when your commercial comes on. They’re also easily sponsored. Something to chew on as we move out of pandemic mode.

2. Netflix Cracks Down On Password Sharing

Netflix has begun cracking down on password sharing, or at least creating the impression that it is cracking down.

While the notion of every Netflix account having thirty people using it has assumed the status of urban myth, the truth is it’s hard to know how many accounts are being shared outside of subscribers’ immediate families.

But on the theory that where there’s smoke there’s fire, password sharing is more than likely to be a potential issue for Netflix.

Why It Matters

How pressing an issue it actually is however, is another story.

Netflix has been happily adding subscribers in larger-than-expected amounts every quarter and the buzz created by all those 26 year olds still logging in on their parents accounts has certainly helped.

At the same time, it’s unclear how many of those 26 year olds would spring for an actual subscription if they couldn’t use their parents accounts, and even if they did cough up $13/month, how that would change their feelings towards Netflix.

The noise about crackdowns might just be a way to remind that cohort that while they’re busy signing up for all the new Flixes their parents don’t have subscriptions to, they’re still getting away with getting Netflix for free, so remember to say thank you to Uncle Reed.

Given that the most popular version of Netflix only allows for two concurrent streams (thus effectively foiling any sort of large scale password sharing schemes) I’m thinking the real issue is that Netflix is worried about people giving up on Netflix when the account is too crowded for them to log in and checking out what’s on HBO Max or Hulu instead, which then leads to them subscribing to those services.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Netflix, your best bet is to promote your existing $18/month premium plan as some form of family plan that lets existing subscribers add as many as six viewer accounts (the “who is watching?” screen that comes on when you log in) while simultaneously promoting the notion that having your own Netflix account is a sign of having reached adulthood.

If you’re one of the other Flixes, your best bet is to hope Netflix doesn’t take any further action, because in reality you are likely getting a lot of overflow from people temporarily boxed out of their parents Netflix accounts who then take the logical next step and pay for a subscription.

If you’re the television industry overall, having some sort of consistent POV around who can watch off a family account and limiting the number of concurrent streams on every service seems like a good way to ensure that everyone who is watching is actually paying.