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What do users want from their TV streaming? A new NPR/Ipsos poll has some answers

Most of those polled said they cared about cost — and content — when it came to streaming services.

As major platforms like Netflix and Disney+ roll out cheaper subscription tiers and crack down on password sharing, a new NPR/Ipsos poll reveals that consumers are focused on three important criteria when they make decisions about TV streaming services: cost, content and ease of use.

In a survey of 765 U.S. adults who use streaming services (which came from a nationally representative starting sample of 1,031 Americans), 92% of users say cost is an important factor in their decision to subscribe to a streaming service — followed closely by 87% who cited specific shows or movies in that decision. The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points, so results could be nearly 4 points higher or lower. The full data is at Ipsos.

When asked about important factors in their decision to cancel or drop a service, 91% note cost once again, followed by 83% who cite a change in content.

And when it comes to navigating all the options available for streaming content, 69% of users agree there are too many streaming services; 58% feel overwhelmed by the amount of content available.

"Cost is key...frankly, I think this speaks to the greater economic uncertainty felt by Americans right now," said Mallory Newall, vice president of public affairs at Ipsos, which conducted the poll.

"At the same time, these users are signaling there's such a thing as too much choice....The most attractive thing a streaming provider can do right now is be price-sensitive while also continuing to offer great content. And it's a bonus if they make it easy for their users to navigate their library or to bundle with other platforms."

Other poll results show consumers have strong — and sometimes contradictory — opinions about the major changes coming in media and the streaming industry, highlighting the challenge companies face in keeping subscribers happy and limiting the number who leave their services.

Subscribers want ad-supported options, even if they don't use them.

Netflix will roll out a cheaper subscription tier on Nov. 1 that places ads inside its shows, followed by a similar option at Disney+ on Dec. 8. Poll results show these initiatives may be popular with consumers; 70% of respondents say having the ability to choose whether or not to have ads is an important factor in choosing a streamer.

But people were more evenly divided on the question of whether they would actually purchase such a subscription, with 51% of users still willing to pay a little more for an advertiser-free experience. (47% say they would pay less and watch ads.)

Poll participant Tim Nguyen, 24, an accountant for the government who lives in Philadelphia, says he likes the option of accessing a streaming service with ads, even if he probably wouldn't do so for his favorite streaming services.

"It definitely gives more opportunity for people to watch more [streaming services]," he says. "Sometimes ads are kind of nice, to break up the monotony of [programming]."

Newall says streaming service users like having choices, "but whether or not you choose to have an ad-free experience isn't going to be a make-or-break thing in how you select a streaming platform and whether you keep it or whether you drop it."

People say they don't use others' passwords often – but they may drop a service if it begins charging more for that option.

Netflix has estimated that 100 million households are using its service by sharing passwords with someone else who actually pays for the subscription. The company told investors it will roll out a plan early next year allowing customers to pay a small fee to share accounts with people outside their households.

But the NPR/Ipsos poll found 50% of users say charging more to share accounts would be an important factor in their decision to drop a streaming service (only 15% of respondents were more concerned about a crackdown on password sharing than rising costs, where 83% expressed concerns).

Seventy percent of streaming service users polled by NPR/Ipsos say they pay for all the services they subscribe to; those numbers are not far off from the results of a spring survey by Leichtman Research Group which said that one-third of Netflix subscribers share passwords. Only 3% of streaming subscribers in the NPR/Ipsos poll say they pay for no services and watch all their streaming TV by sharing passwords; 19% say they pay for most services but borrow passwords to watch some platforms.

That's what survey participant Mia Brunkhorst does. The 28-year-old, who works as an instructional designer at Arizona State University in Tempe, pays for three streaming services and accesses a few others via the passwords of close relatives. But she's not worried about extra charges for sharing passwords.

"I feel like even if they added an additional fee, that fee would be cheaper than paying for another Netflix subscription," Brunkhorst said, adding that she believes more people share account information than they admitted to pollsters. "I totally don't believe only 19% of people share passwords."

Users didn't change streaming services that often.

About 48% of users did not add or drop a streaming service from their array of subscriptions in the past year; 31% added or dropped a service once in the past 12 months. And as sensitive as they are to concerns about price, if their most-used streaming service increased its subscription fees by $5 monthly, 58% would continue their subscription (that percentage drops to 33% if the price goes up $10 per month).

Users don't spend much on streaming.

Respondents subscribed to an average 3.55 streaming services per month, costing $42.38 monthly. Compare that to a median cost of $79 monthly for cable TV service, according to a March survey published on the website cableTV.com, which averaged the prices of 52 different plans.

But a sizable number are still feeling an economic pinch when it comes to the cost of streaming services, with 38% saying they spend more for subscriptions now than a year ago.

Streaming is becoming the future of TV.

Back in July, Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings predicted the end of linear TV – television scheduled on broadcast, cable and satellite systems – in five to 10 years. Results from all 1,031 people contacted for the NPR/Ipsos poll — a nationally representative sample which includes those who don't use streaming services — indicate that scenario is quickly taking shape.

Just 19% of all Americans say they access TV through broadcasts received through an antenna. By contrast, 71% of Americans use streaming services, compared to 48% who use cable/satellite/fiber optic systems.

Respondents see diversity on streaming services...with a caveat.

Among those polled who use streaming services, a whopping 80% say streaming services do a good job of showing a diversity of characters. A smaller number — a still significant 60% — say streamers do a good job showing characters who reflect THEIR identity.

Newall says these numbers indicate subscribers generally like what they're seeing on streaming services. "A majority feel...they're seeing people like [themselves] reflected, they like the content, they like what streaming platforms have to offer," she said. "They just want to make sure that it's still easy to find the content they're interested in and that they don't have to look across platforms or pay an arm and a leg to do so."

Which streaming services do respondents (or someone in their household) subscribe to?

Netflix, 78%; Amazon, 72%; Hulu, 50%; Disney+, 47%; HBO Max, 36%; Peacock, 27%; Paramount+, 25%; Apple TV+ 19%; Discovery+, 9%.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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