Prime Time for Streaming?

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Before figuring out whether Netflix, Hulu and other “over-the-top” digital streamers are going to eat traditional programmers’ lunch or buy them dinner, it might help to know who is watching them — and when.

According to a new report from Nielsen, the number of Americans with Internet access now stands at 274 million, double the 132.2 million with access in 2000. Naturally that’s led to more people viewing online video.

Nielsen says that about one-third of consumers streamed long-form content-a movie or TV show-using a subscription video on demand service like Netflix or Hulu Plus, with 12 million doing the Hulu on their home computers and 6.2 million giving Netflix a try in October 2011.

While 31% of Hulu’s audience is in the 18-34 year old age group that leading over-the-top viewing, more than a third of its users are 50 or older. Netflix’s crowd is younger, with 40% of users in the 18 to 34 bracket and 17% 50-plus.

More women than men use both services. For Netflix, women represent 57% of viewers while 59% of Hulu’s viewers are women, and they account for 64% of total time watching. Nielsen says this is interesting because overall men spend more time with online video than women.

Maybe more importantly, when are they doing their streaming? Nielsen says that last October 3.49 million viewers watched video content on Hulu on home computers during primetime, spending a total of 231 million minutes. On Netflix, 2.78 million viewers were on in prime, spending a total of 450 million minutes.

Two million people tune in to episodes of even marginal broadcast primetime shows on any given night. Still you’ve got to wonder if those viewers could have saved Playboy Club or Charlie’s Angels, which were canceled for low ratings during October. The answer may become more important as this stream becomes a stronger current, requiring new shows on broadcast and cable to become stronger swimmers.

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