ARF’s DASH Study Reveals the Reality of Consumer Device and Account Sharing in the US


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The explosion in the use of devices and media channels has resulted in tons of data, but also confusion about how and by whom these various devices and channels are being used. DASH produces fundamental data that answers these questions; media, measurement, and e-commerce companies can use DASH data to estimate universes, correct biases and gaps in large datasets, and make better projections, and DASH data also provides useful insights to strategists and developers.

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  • More than a third of Americans (36%) share their Netflix account passwords with loved ones, while 13% share them with friends; for other major streaming services, password sharing with relatives also far exceeds that of friends.
  • Household targeting is useful, but far from perfect because, especially at certain times of the day, people are more likely to go to their own screens. Among SVOD services (subscription video on demand), Disney+ is the most co-viewed (53% of respondents in 4+ households), followed by Netflix and Amazon Prime (30% of respondents in 4+ households) .
  • The popularity of device sharing complicates the measurement: 42% of Americans share devices with other household members, and this trend is even higher, for example, among Hispanic households, regardless of device type .
  • TV brands have distinct demographic profiles, which has implications for audience data distributed by OEMs. For example, Samsung is the most popular brand among Hispanic audiences.
  • Email is considered essential to many aspects of digital marketing, yet a third of all respondents said they have more than one email address; the phenomenon of multiple accounts is less prevalent on individual social media platforms.

When Netflix announced it was testing measures to stop account sharing in March, the world wondered what the impact of the streaming giant’s decision might be. The ARF Universe Study on Device and Account Sharing (HYPHEN) shed some light: More than a third of Americans (36%) share their Netflix account passwords with loved ones, while 13% share them with friends.

DASH was created to address the complex nature of using (and sharing) digital devices and media, a modern phenomenon that makes it difficult to get an accurate and comprehensive understanding of how Americans use technology to shop. , to be entertained and informed. An industry-backed starting point to help create that understanding, this annual single-source syndicated enumeration study seeks to produce unbiased metrics for the attribution of digital devices, streaming, and e-commerce accounts to individuals and households.

Devices covered include televisions, smartphones, game consoles, tablets, computers and smart speakers within the household. DASH also collects information about TV brands, locations, service modes and capabilities, as well as respondents’ viewing and co-watching habits – across live TV and streaming services. DASH subscribers use the data to deepen cross-platform exposure within households, validate device graphs, and correct biases and gaps in large datasets. It is also used for panel weighting, data normalization, modeling and projections.

In partnership with the National Opinion Research Corporation (NORC) at the University of Chicago, DASH 2021 was conducted among a nationwide probability sample of 10,400 US adults, with an additional sample of teenage users ages 13-17 . Responses were collected online, in person and by telephone to ensure a representative sample.

Here are some of the key findings from the first year of the study…

Television consumption is becoming more complicated

Media and e-commerce measurement companies that access big data often assign demographic data to a set of home devices by matching hashed email or IP address through one of the major identity companies . Media measurement companies have metadata that allows them to profile an IP (household) address against the SVOD services they use. This approach can help identify or validate household demographics, improving the accuracy of demographic assignments, but it’s not enough: a recent Truthset report suggests that predictive accuracy varies widely. For example, in large datasets recently cleaned by Truthset, pet ownership was 92% accurate, but education level was only 33% accurate.

What does this mean for understanding who watches television? Are the accounts used personally or shared with other household members or friends and family outside the household? Does the number and type of accounts tell us about the household? The answer to all of these questions is yes. In addition to the previously mentioned level of password sharing for Netflix, 22% of Amazon Prime users share with relatives and 8% with friends. For Disney+, 32% share with relatives and 13% with friends, and for ESPN+ the split is 16% and 7% respectively.

Accounts also add complications within the household. A common need among media measurement companies is to understand how many people are watching the tuning signals they receive. The DASH study asked about watch viewing by time slot, on which device and with whom. The heaviest co-viewing occurs during dinnertime and prime time among two-person households. This suggests that in larger households, children and their parents may tend to use their own TV or device after dinner. Among SVOD services (subscription video on demand), Disney+ is the most co-viewed (53% of respondents in 4+ households), followed by Netflix and Amazon Prime (30% of respondents in 4+ households) . Disney+ was also the most co-viewed by households aged 2 and over (37% of respondents).

TV brands have distinct demographic profiles, which has implications for the audience data distributed by OEMs that they also use to sell their own inventory of connected TVs. For example, when it comes to ownership by Hispanic audiences, Samsung is the most popular.

Devices are for sharing

To create a richer picture of device usage and media consumption, identity and measurement companies try to assign different devices to the same household by assuming that all devices connecting through the same IP address belong to the same household. But this approach doesn’t provide insight into usage within the household, especially of people in the household who use the same device, which can make targeting difficult. DASH data shows that 42% of Americans share devices with other household members. That number jumps to 49% in Hispanic households. Sixteen percent of Americans share smartphones (27% in Hispanic households) and 31% share tablets (42% in Hispanic households).

“Video fireplaces” should be the new normal

While we collect data on all modes of television reception, one of the most interesting and controversial modes is broadband only (BBO). BBO households are less likely to engage in traditional network television, but their existence also calls into question what a “television household” is. DASH data indicates that 94.2% of households are “TV households” by the traditional definition. But that means traditional monitoring is missing the video behavior of nearly 6% of US households, many of which contain young adults who only watch video on devices via broadband. Of the BBO households in the study, more than half only broadcast and do not receive over-the-air television signals. That said, many of the network’s digital channels such as NBC News Now and ABC News Live are available through streaming channels.

Suffice it to say, it’s time to drop the term “television-equipped home” and replace it with “video-equipped home”.

Many have multiple email addresses, but duplicate social media accounts are limited

Email, hashed or not, is a critical component for identity, match keys, e-commerce attribution, and many other applications in the digital ecosystem. But how unique are they? A third of all respondents with email have more than one, and, in fact, they tend to use them despite the creation of email tools like Apple’s Hide My Email. This dynamic complicates the use of hashed emails alone as a match key.

The walled gardens are believed to have reasonably good control over duplication and frequency limits at least within their own platforms, assuming, of course, that most people have a limited number of accounts on that same platform. DASH found this to be largely true. Instagram was the platform with the highest number of duplicate accounts – 15% of users have more than one account.

In a fragmented consumer landscape, DASH can help the industry gain a holistic understanding of how Americans use technology to shop, entertain and learn. Going forward, the DASH study will be conducted annually, with the goal of creating a cost-effective, accurate and comprehensive standard for the benefit of the industry.

DASH 2021 results can be obtained under license from the ARF by contacting [email protected]


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