Earlier this week, a new page went up on the Netflix Help Center, detailing sharing accounts across different households, aka password sharing. A crackdown on password sharing has been coming for a while, but somehow, even my cynical ass didn’t think the rules would be this asinine. For instance, under the new rules—which might not be set in stone yet, feels like Netflix is just testing the waters here—devices “outside your home network” will need to be periodically verified to keep using the same account. My Netflix account currently allows for use on up to four devices. Two of those are in my home, and two are in my parents’ home. They’re older, they struggle a little with all the different interfaces, so it’s just easier for me to have access to their Netflix, for those times they have trouble with it. Apparently, that is not part of the new Netflix thinking, and I will have to jump through hoops so my elderly parents can keep streaming.
If you’re old enough to recall the Napster revolution, this all feels very familiar. Crackdowns on sharing, attempts to block “unauthorized” use, what is happening now has happened before. I wish Netflix, or anyone in the film & television industry, would take a minute to ask their peers in the music industry how it worked out for them, because they’re about to repeat the same mistakes. The time for Netflix to care about password sharing was in the beginning, not 10+ years down the line, when people have an expectation that they can use their included devices however they want. Once people have normalized a convenience, it is virtually impossible to do away with said convenience. If you try, you will only infuriate your audience and guarantee one of two outcomes: either they stop using your service, or they find a new cheat. My parents, for instance, won’t bother getting their own Netflix account. They’ll just stop using it altogether.
And many other people will, of course, turn to piracy. It actually does hurt the industry, but in an era where distributors can cancel, if not outright kill, shows and movies, it’s hard not to see file sharing as a solution to the times. With so many shows and movies being shelved, file sharing is a way to guarantee that the title continues to exist, in some form. It’s not ideal, it’s not legal, but I get how it seems like the solution. Long-term, I don’t think it is, but right now, if and when Netflix goes through with their password crackdown, I expect to see an explosion of torrenting.
It's going to be a rough year in the world of streaming. The Wall Street pipe dream of endless subscriber growth is over, password sharing limitations is a guaranteed disaster, and three of the biggest creative unions—writers, directors, and actors—have contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) this year. They’ll all be coming for the streamers, who are pants at paying residuals (Netflix has already lost lawsuits about it). A-listers aren’t the only ones who get a slice of the pie when a movie or show is successful, the distributor and/or network is supposed to pay into the unions’ health care and pension plans, but that has all been gutted in the streaming era.
Expect negotiations to be tough, we’ll be lucky to avoid a strike, and the streamers will probably end up ceding ground and setting up rate schedules to contribute to those plans. And if they do, you know what will happen—they’ll turn around and raise our subscription rates. If they have to pay, we’ll have to pay, too. Password sharing will be the least of everyone’s problems by the end of the year.
Live long and gossip,