Cable TV services have been lamenting “cord cutters” — or those who use online streaming services in lieu of traditional cable subscriptions — for some time. But now, streaming services like HBO NOW, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video are coming up against another menace: password sharing.
The issue was the subject of a comedy sketch at this year’s Emmy Awards, when host Andy Samberg shared an apparently legit login email and password for HBO Now, which allows users to stream HBO TV shows.
Samberg’s login (khaleesifan3@EmmyHost.com, password1) may have been an amusing nod to the character on the HBO series Game of Thrones, but it was no laughing matter for services that allow streaming video.
Login credentials are meant to be shared among members of a household, sure. But according to research firm Parks Associates, unauthorized sharing can add up to about $500 million in lost revenue for companies like HBO, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, which USA Today says are used by around 58% of Americans.
Although some of those companies don’t consider password sharing to be a major issue, a poll by USA Today found that 36% of adult Americans who use premium TV streaming services have shared their passwords before.
It’s no wonder that so many users might want to share passwords. All online video content totals more than 50 billion views per month because visual content rules on the web.
Subscriptions to services like Netflix and Hulu start at $7.99 per month, and even HBO Now is just $14.99 each month, so they still cost far less than a typical cable subscription. Sharing a password to allow friends and family access to those accounts, while it saves those individuals a few dollars each month, could cost the services millions of dollars each year.
Add in that other streaming video apps in the iOS App Store and on Google Play are some of the top earners in terms of revenue, and password sharing among consumers could be a very costly issue for these companies. In terms of revenue, HBO Now ranked first over the past year; Hulu placed third.
There are some safeguards in place, however, to prevent excess sharing of usernames and passwords. Netflix allows users to stream on up to four devices at once for $11.99 per month, and Hulu only lets one user log in at a time.
Those who tried Samberg’s HBO Now login after the Emmys were likely unable to catch up on GoT, as the service only supports up to three logged-in users at a time.
For its part, HBO took the Emmys gag in stride by offering a trial subscription. On Monday, they tweeted, “Andy’s login not working? Start your own @HBONOW account, free for 30 days.”