Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Mother’s New Little Helper: Netflix

Netflix reports its quarterly earnings tomorrow, so we’ll hear a lot about how many users Netflix has, how many it added (or lost) in the last three months, how many hours of video they streamed, etc.

But how do Netflix users actually use Netflix?

For at least some of them, the answer is: They use it as an $8-a-month babysitting service.

That’s the takeaway from a focus group Bernstein Research conducted with a bunch of San Francisco moms last month. Bernstein is particularly interested in how moms use Netflix with their kids, because the team there believes that kids’ shows on Netflix are a problem, or potential problem, for kids’ cable programmers like Viacom and Disney. And the discussion they had with these moms supports their thesis:

Our panelists who subscribe to Netflix largely originally did so for themselves, but are now using the service primarily for their kids. The content selection is perceived to be significantly better for kids than for adults, and the lack of commercials and ability to control the viewing choices are seen as positives.

And the quotes and paraphrases from the focus group are excellent, and ring at least partially true. At least to this non-San Francisco-based kid-watcher:

  • We found that most mothers originally subscribed to Netflix streaming for themselves, but eventually the service is used primarily by their children.
  • Some mothers like that Netflix streaming allows them to watch older content, but many consider Netflix as a service better suited for children because of lack of interesting content for adults.
  • Mothers like that Netflix does not have commercials and contains programming their kids enjoy (citing Dora, SpongeBob, etc.).
  • Many mothers cited instances in which their children watched the entire episode library of a given show (e.g., SpongeBob) on Netflix.
  • Almost universally, the mothers found that kids do not tire of watching the same programs over and over again. …
  • When asked if Netflix was an adequate substitute for cable, Group 2 erupted in a chorus of nos.
  • Regarding the types of shows one child watched on Netflix, one mother stated, “Mostly she watches the shows she’s seen a million times [already] on Netflix.”
  • “My kids do binge viewing through Netflix. I never turn on Netflix.”
  • Regarding the availability of older content: “The Columbo’s we don’t own, we watch on Netflix. Columbo, Columbo, Columbo, Columbo.”
  • “I think I use it more for the kids than I do for myself.”

But it’s equally important to note that most of the Bernstein panelists don’t say Netflix is their primary source of kids’ entertainment: Most of them also rely on some combination of DVRs, pay-TV on-demand offerings and other services.

And, a bit oddly, when Bernstein conducted a similar panel of moms in New York this month, it found that most of them had no idea how the service worked. Which again means they didn’t talk to my family or most people I know.

Unlike our panel in SF, this group of mothers had surprisingly little knowledge of the Netflix value proposition. They did not use Netflix for their kids as much as the SF panel suggested since most knew almost nothing about the product.

  • When describing what the product offers for kids, some uninformed mothers did not see the need for the use of such a service, as they mostly needed programs that are downloadable. They felt that OnDemand and DVR fulfilled the majority of their programming needs.
  • When asked what form of entertainment service the mothers would give up first, invariably it was Netflix.
  • When asking about pricing for Netflix, one mother asked, “Is it $30 a month?”


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus