ANALYSIS: Netflix Saved Its Average User From 9.1 Days of Commercials in 2019 Staff Staff

Fast facts:

  • The average Netflix subscriber spent over two hours a day streaming Netflix content in 2019.
  • Network television averages 18 minutes of commercials per hour (and this number continues to increase).
  • With no commercials, two hours of Netflix saves users from over 36 minutes of ads daily, or 219 hours of ads a year.
  • During COVID-19 quarantine, we estimate the average total daily usage of Netflix has gone up at least thirty minutes per user, meaning the service is saving people from an extra nine minutes of ads a day during the pandemic.

There are a number of reasons television viewers might say they prefer watching Netflix over network TV. Some prefer the original content, or access to an entire back catalog of one of their favorite shows. Others might say they enjoy watching whatever they want on their own schedule as on-demand television becomes the new norm.

One of the most common reasons people say they prefer a streaming service like Netflix over traditional network and cable television is because there are no commercial breaks. There has never been a time in history where people have been inundated by more ads than they are now, so it makes sense why a break from commercials while streaming TV would be popular.

Last year, Netflix VP of Original Content Cindy Holland announced that the average Netflix user spends two hours a day using the service. This was reported before the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus we estimate usage numbers are even higher over the last several months. For the sake of accuracy, we will only use Ms. Holland’s metrics of two hours of total daily Netflix usage, although it’s safe to estimate these numbers have grown over the last two months during quarantine.

So how much time do people spend watching commercials every year viewing broadcast and cable television?

According to a report by Gaebler via Wikipedia, the average hour of network or cable television in the United States is roughly 42 minutes of programming and 18 minutes of advertisements. While networks promised to work toward decreasing the number of ads per hour, a report by the Los Angeles Times has actually found that has not yet happened, reporting that commercial time continues to increase per hour. There have also been reports of networks speeding up the playback speed of television episodes 10-15% in order to get in one extra ad slot, something the average viewer likely wouldn’t specifically notice but which adds up over time.

The average American spends just under four hours per day watching television according to a California State University study. Meaning during that time, if they are watching over a traditional cable or network broadcast, they will spend over an hour watching commercials each day.

Comparing these numbers against the two hours a day Netflix users spend watching ad-free content, the streaming service is saving US households from over 219 hours, or nine days, of commercials a year.

While network and cable television networks still show strong ratings and total viewership numbers, the number of subscribers to major cable services has been steadily decreasing in recent years as a growing number of people aim to cut the cord. While cost savings tend to be the No. 1 reason people do so, the ability to skip commercials is another major benefit of going streaming-only.

Interestingly, prices for internet-only packages have become more expensive as cable companies work to recoup revenue losses due to the growth of cord cutting. With bundles, cable companies can offer lower pricing on each portion of the package, but as more people opt for internet only service, we have noticed a trend of ISPs raising their prices. This streaming has also created an increase in bandwidth usage, which means it seems likely home internet service might continue to get more expensive as this trend continues.

About the Authors

The staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.