6 Ways Netflix Viewing Habits Vary Around the World

The first look at how platform's global use differs by place and device

Headshot of Marty Swant

BARCELONA, Spain—No two nations are alike, and apparently neither are their Netflix habits.

It has barely been three months since the Los Gatos, Calif., company announced its worldwide expansion at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, more than doubling the number of countries it serves from 60 to 130. But since then, the streaming provider of movies and television shows is already seeing some trends emerge when comparing international viewing habits. (For a sense of scale, users in the fourth quarter of 2015 watched 12 billion hours of programs on Netflix, a 45.5 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2014.)

During a keynote speech on Wednesday at Mobile World Congress, Scott Mirer, vp of the device partner ecosystem at Netflix, said working with providers across dozens of countries is working well. He said the company sees "a world of partnerships," rather than a grand vision of undermining traditional cable providers.

"I think cord cutting is great rhetoric to sell ads and generate readership," he said. "And there's a story in there about overall long-term changes in the industry, but it's not the disaster story that I think it's made out to be."

Here are six insights about Netflix's mobile consumption gleaned from the early months of its global expansion:

1. Primary devices vary around the world

People are more likely to watch Netflix on phones in India, South Korea and Japan, but televisions are more popular with U.S., South American and Australian customers. Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia prefer tablets, while some parts of Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe use desktop and laptop computers the most.

2. Mobile isn't everything—at least not yet

Last year, around 42 percent of all signups were registered for desktops or laptops, Mirer said. Phones came in a distant second, with 27 percent of all signups, followed by 21 percent for televisions and 10 percent for tablets. 

3. What you sign up with isn't what you stick with

Netflix stats show that the device users sign up for the service with often shifts after the first month, and even more after six months. The evolution gives some insight into what viewers think they'll use and what they actually do end up using. 

TV: While televisions accounted for 21 percent of signups, it accounted for 48 percent of primary devices after one month and 62 percent of primary devices after six months.

Desktops/laptops: After one month, only 26 percent of viewers used a desktop or laptop as their primary devices, a decrease from the 42 percent who initially signed up on the computer. After six months, total viewers using a computer as their primary fell to 22 percent.

Phone: Those who signed up using a smartphone also seemed to prefer something else down the road. Of the 27 percent of those who signed up with a smartphone, only 16 percent used it as a primary device after 16 months and only 9 percent after six months.

Tablet: For the most part, tablet usage stayed fairly flat between signup and one month of use. However, primary viewership fell slightly after six months, falling from 10 percent to 7 percent.

4. Android vs. iPhone

The type of smartphone used to watch Netflix differs greatly depending on which part of the world the user is in. For example, in North America, viewers in the U.S. and Canada tend to lean more heavily toward iPhones, while Mexico is much more of an Android country. Android dominates South America while the iPhone has a hold on Eastern Europe and Australia. African and European countries' preferences varied.

5. Wi-Fi for the world

Thanks to Wi-Fi, the majority of the developed world tends to avoid draining its cellular data plans during Netflix binges. However, other countries—regions like Sudan, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Guinea and Finland—view a much higher percentage of content with the help of various carriers.

6. A world of partnerships

Mirer said Netflix is partnering with a number of major cable and cellular companies around the world to offer content in a way that helps both Netflix and providers gain subscribers. In fact, some—such as Vodafone, Softbank, Virgin Media and Dish—even tout their partnerships with the U.S. tech company as a service perk. Others use Netflix in their marketing campaigns: BT has out-of-home ads in subways, while Proximus promotes through direct mail and Optus Yes through digital advertising. Totalplay in Mexico even has a Netflix button on the remote control.

Asked by an audience member at Mobile World Congress whether Netflix will ever allow users to download shows to watch offline, Mirer said the question is going through much debate right now—and sparking more questions. 

"I don't know if we'll ever do it," he said. "We might or might not. The reason we haven't is because rights tend to be somewhat expensive and that the product experience tends to get much more complicated. How do you know what you can watch offline versus what you can't watch offline? When do those rights lapse? Do you have to watch it all in 24 or 48 hours because that's how the rights are licensed? How do you think about the discovery experience or what you have downloaded versus what you don't have downloaded?"

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.