Every streaming service has its own rules on sharing an account. Most, like Netflix, simple conceded that sharing among a family will mean multiple locations. But even Netflix has limits.
You’ve Shared Your Netflix Password With Your Entire Family. Now You Can’t Watch Netflix.
Lockdowns have had people at home for months bingeing everything, but streaming services limit the number of screens in use at one time, meaning some get blocked
By Jon Emont, June 8, 2020 1:17 pm ET
Satele Brewer had finished an exhausting day of work when he tried to log in to the Netflix account he shares with his family. A message popped up on his screen telling him he couldn’t watch “Breaking Bad” because too many people were using the account at one time.
“I’m like ‘How are there too many users?’ ” said Mr. Brewer, a 28-year-old music producer in Columbus, Ohio. Then he realized that his family was staying home, with little to do but stream movies and shows.
As people spend more time at home amid coronavirus restrictions, many of them are turning to video-streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now more than ever. The problem is, so are their families and friends. Although the services allow people to share accounts, they place limits on how many devices can stream at once, stirring tensions among loved ones.
Mr. Brewer said he called his sister, whose young son watches a Netflix animated series in the late afternoon, and recommended other ways the boy could spend his time, like reading a book to his mom or coloring.
“Can’t he do something else?” Mr. Brewer recalled telling his sister. “Doesn’t he have schoolwork to do on the computer?”
When he isn’t able to access the family account, Mr. Brewer said he ends up watching videos on YouTube to pass the time. He said he isn’t interested in subscribing to a Netflix account of his own because his parents allow him to use theirs.
Fatima Akoob, a 27-year-old student in Durban, South Africa, said her family WhatsApp group has been pinging with messages from members blocked from watching Netflix. Compounding the problem is that her brother gives out the password to “literally everybody,” she said.
“I think my cousins have it, my uncles, my aunts,” Ms. Akoob said, who suspects they in turn have passed the password on to their family and friends. “That’s why it’s gotten a little bit crazy right now.”
She recently learned, she said, that Netflix sent her brother an email to flag that someone was accessing the family account as far away as Dubai. When she confronted her brother, he confessed that on an international flight, he had become friendly with the passenger sitting next to him and shared the password as a kind gesture, she said.
“I was like no, no, dude, what are you doing!” said Ms. Akoob.
After intense lobbying from others in the family, Ms. Akoob’s brother recently changed the password, to limit who could watch.
One-third of subscribers to services like Netflix share their password with someone outside their household, according to a February survey of 2,235 subscribers by Magid, a market-research company.
In October, Netflix’s chief product officer Greg Peters said the company is monitoring password-sharing but has “no big plans to announce” in regards to it.
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A Netflix spokesperson said last month, “We have always allowed members of the same household to share Netflix—and created guardrails to prevent abuse.”
Netflix added nearly 16 million new subscribers around the world in the first quarter.
HBO and Hulu didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Andrew Hare, senior vice president of Magid, said streaming companies may benefit if subscribers discover that sharing passwords means they can’t always watch their favorite shows when they want to.
“We’ll have to look back to see if this to some degree stifles password-sharing long term,” he said.
Another possibility, Mr. Hare said, is that cooped-up consumers who have already watched all the content that appeals to them on one platform could borrow passwords from friends who have subscriptions to other streaming services. “People are running out of content,” he said.
Will Hardy, a 26-year-old fan of Netflix’s “Ozark,” has been struggling to get his fix. He sometimes calls other members of his family to investigate how long they expect to watch and if there’s something else they could be doing. “It depends how bad I want to watch it,” he said.
Mr. Hardy, who lives in Chicago, shared the password with his girlfriend and a friend before the virus-linked lockdown. Back then, he said, he didn’t know there were restrictions on the number of users who could watch at the same time.
Some account owners have decided to purge free-riders. Yesenia Lopez Duran, 22, a recent graduate in Santa Cruz, Calif., pays for a Netflix account that her mother and older brother also use. When she got the message about too many people streaming, she suspected her brother’s ex-girlfriend was also watching. She hadn’t minded until it became a problem during the lockdown. “It didn’t really affect me, and then when it did I was like ‘uh, time to go.’ ” She changed the password.
When the ex-girlfriend reached out about the account, Ms. Duran told her she had ended the subscription. “I didn’t know how to tell her I basically kicked her off,” said Ms. Duran.
Those who are kicked off sometimes have no choice but to finally get a subscription of their own. Tahmeena Carawan, a 23-year-old owner of a marketing agency in South Africa, said she had been watching “Orange Is the New Black” on her husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s Netflix account, after she got the password from her brother-in-law.
Then around a month ago, she couldn’t stream her show because there were too many people watching. Not long afterward, the password she had from her husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s uncle stopped working—she suspects he changed it.
The next day she and her husband purchased their own Netflix account.
Write to Jon Emont at email@example.com