Netflix Knows Some Very Strange Things About Public Viewing Habits

"Netflixing in Public"—the act of watching Netflix out in the world, not to be confused with "Netflix and chill"—is officially a thing. Ever since smartphones got fast enough to stream on-the-go, folks have gotten more and more used to watching TV and movies almost anywhere. Don’t believe us? Go watch the line at Whole Foods for an hour, or ride the New York City subway. Or check out the latest data from Netflix itself.

Netflix

Yes, Netflix is paying attention to when, where, and how people consume TV and movies, and has actually started studying how their habits are changing. And in their latest data set, released today, the streaming service says it discovered that 67 percent of Americans now watch Netflix out in the world, a figure that, according to Eddy Wu, Netflix’s director of product innovation, shows that "Netflixing in Public has become a social norm."

Not that looking at stuff on your phone was ever really frowned upon. Even back in 2015, when Pew Research Center released its study on the matter, 77 percent of adults thought it was fine for someone to use their cellphone while walking down the street, and 75 percent thought it was acceptable for people to use them on public transit. In the intervening years, connectivity has only become more prevalent and watching streaming video more common (see: AT&T giving out free HBO Go with its unlimited data plans and T-Mobile letting users watch video without eating up their data allotment). Moreover, Netflix itself launched a feature a year ago that allowed folks to download video for when they're out of range, something that's no doubt upped the amount of video people are watching in the mall or at the airport.

“The introduction of the Netflix download feature has given users the freedom to watch their favorite movies and shows wherever they want,” Wu said in a statement, “like during their commute or waiting in line, or for some … that means at work or even in a public restroom.” (Um, that last one is oddly specific, Ed.)

Streaming while flushing aside, Netflix’s data—which comes from more than 37,000 responses to a worldwide survey conducted this past summer, rather than some sort of creepy tracking mechanism—found some fascinating bits of information. For one, 44 percent of the respondents reported that they’d caught someone snooping on their screen, and 22 percent were embarrassed by what they were watching. (Was it Gossip Girl? It was Gossip Girl, wasn’t it? Don’t lie.) Netflix also found that 11 percent of those surveyed had a movie or TV show spoiled because they peeked at someone else’s screen in public.

The snooping aspect of Netflix's study is compelling because it shows just how much rabid phone usage has completely eroded the line between public and private. Don't think so? Go back to that Whole Foods line and see how many people are talking to their significant other on an earpiece. The fact that almost everyone is on their phone now has lead to people being much more brazen about what they'll have up on their screens—screens that are likely to attract the attention of folks nearby.

And people who watch in public probably don't care if someone is looking over their shoulder. In addition to that fairly low embarrassment statistic above, Netflix also found 35 percent of those who binge in public say they've been interrupted by someone who wanted to talk about what they were watching. (Was it Gossip Girl? It was Gossip Girl wasn’t it?) The report didn't indicate whether any of them was bothered by the interruption, but chances are if they had been streaming in public for a while they were probably used to it. Fans still think of watching their favorite thing as a group event, whether consumed at home or elsewhere, it's just that smartphones have evolved our ideas where public spaces end and personal spaces begin.

Oh, and speaking of personal time, 22 percent of public streamers reported they have cried while viewing. Folks in Mexico, Colombia, and Chile were the most emotional, but—as Netflix’s data release notes—"it’s unlikely to see a German bawling while they binge." OK, that’s oddly specific, too.


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