It's already on par with ABC and NBC.
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If Netflix were a TV network, its audience would surpass that of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox within a year. That's according to a new study by FBR Capital Markets, which leveraged Nielsen ratings to assess the relative popularity of the internet's most popular streaming media service.
The comparisons aren't entirely fair, as Variety points out, since Nielsen ratings do not fully account for the use of VOD or DVR viewership, nor do they cover online-video views. Furthermore, TV networks follow a completely different operating schedule and fundamental business strategy than streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
Nevertheless, the findings point to both Netflix's soaring popularity and the diminishing importance of broadcast media in home entertainment.
Historically, Netflix has been cagey about sharing user data, but two bits of info it does release is its total number of subscribers and the number of hours they collectively stream. Using those figures, analysts at FBR were able to arrive at the Nielsen rating Netflix would get if it were a traditional broadcaster: roughly 2.6 in Q1 2015, or about the same as ABC and NBC over the same time period. That's despite spending less on content rights than the major networks.
More troubling for the big players, Netflix is growing at a rate of more than 40% per year, while networks are losing market share.
In addition to viewership numbers, FBR researchers pointed to a poll that asked TV watchers to choose between Netflix and a cable or satellite TV subscription: 57 percent chose Netflix, with 43 percent opting for traditional pay TV.
In short, Netflix or something like it seems destined to be the future of television. This shouldn't come as a surprise in 2015, but it's always interesting to attach some data to a trend.