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TV networks are whistling past the graveyard if they think Netflix can’t hurt them

Netflix Vs Network TV Study

Earlier this year, I laughed when I heard NBCUniversal president of research and media development Alan Wurtzel brush off the potential threat of Netflix when he claimed that watching traditional network TV is “watching TV the way that God intended.” I suspect that Wurtzel knows that Netflix is actually the future of TV and he was just spouting off lines like this to avoid causing alarm in the industry.

That said, a new study shows that traditional TV networks should be worried about what streaming services will do to their total viewership, whether they want to admit it publicly or not.

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Per Variety, a new study from Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson has found that traditional TV viewing declined by 3% over the last year and that Netflix was responsible for half of that decline. Nathanson also projects that Netflix streaming will account for 14% of all TV viewership by 2020.

MoffettNathanson has often been skeptical about the notion that streaming services will be truly disruptive to traditional TV and Nathanson concludes that “Netflix is a source of industry pain, but not necessarily a cause of industry death.”

Which is true to some extent but there’s also no doubt that Netflix is the future and traditional networks will have to adapt to it. The experience of watching TV through Netflix is just flat-out better than traditional TV.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the giant hit that network TV has taken as a result of Netflix.

“In comparing TV viewing of Netflix vs. non-Netflix households, broadcast networks took the biggest hit in 2015,” Variety explains. “CBS viewing among Netflix subs was 42% lower than non-subs, with Fox at -35%, ABC at -32% and NBC at -27%.”

If NBC and the other networks really think that what they’re offering is “watching TV the way that God intended,” then they’d better start doing a lot of praying.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.