Streaming speakeasies: Password sharing is a growing issue

Call it the modern-day equivalent of the Prohibition-era speakeasy.

If you want to get into the content from a video-streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, you need to pay your subscription fee, and use your username and password. But not everyone wants to pay to watch “Orange is the New Black” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.” And that’s where password sharing comes in.

For those unaware of the concept, password sharing is when, for example, you give your Netflix sign-on credentials to someone else to use. Maybe it’s your mother, who, somehow, still manages to be unable to get her TV back to its regular channels after she’s flipped over to watch a few episodes of “Bloodline?” The point is password sharing goes on.

And it especially goes on among millennials.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll of 3,557 respondents who said they streamed video content, 21 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had watched some kind of video-streaming service by using someone else’s sign-on information. The survey took place between June 8 and June 26.

Of respondents between 25 and 34 years old, 15 percent they had used another person’s username and password to watch something from a subscription-based streaming network.

The percentage of password-borrowing users dropped for older demographic groups, which brought the total of all adults using another’s credentials down to 12 percent.

The practice is one that different companies have different takes on. For example, Netflix allows subscribers to run two or four simultaneous streams, depending on what kind of streaming subscription plan they have. Hulu officially allows only one stream running at time, but there are many examples of users being able to stream Hulu programs on two devices at once.

While video-streaming companies have, for the most part, not enacted widespread crackdowns on non-paying customers using others login information, the potential of losing revenue is something that will likely weigh on the minds of Netflix, HBO Go and others. If sales growth from subscribers slows enough, the potential for more restrictions on how subscribers’ passwords are used is likely to increase. And the speakeasy door may be harder to pry open.

Photo: Netflix original programs such as “Marvel’s Daredevil” are seen in this image. The company, and others in the video-streaming market, are dealing with the ongoing issue of non-paying people watching programs by using the usernames and passwords of subscribers. (Courtesy Netfllix)


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