Do you feel like a rogue bandit every time you log in to a friend’s streaming account? If you do, you probably shouldn’t feel that way. Streaming services don’t care about account sharing.
Streaming websites don’t want to give their service away for free. They just don’t punish users for account sharing, and they usually enable the practice by allowing multi-device simultaneous streaming. In fact, some streaming services have figured out how to capitalize off of account sharing and quietly encourage it.
Netflix doesn’t care about account sharing, even though an estimated twenty-four million people use an account that they don’t pay for. And while you’d assume that twenty-four million moochers would hurt Netflix’s profits, that isn’t necessarily the case.
In the words of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, the company is “doing fine as is,” in spite of account sharers. And, because of “legitimate password sharing, like you sharing with your spouse,” the phenomena is just something Netflix has to “learn to live with.”
It seems Netflix has learned to “live with” account sharing by encouraging it, rather than trying to squash it. The website’s “profiles” feature makes account sharing super convenient, and four-screen “Premium” subscription plans, which cost an extra $7 a month, provide Netflix with an extra $100 million or more per year.
While Netflix is relatively lax about account sharing, Hulu takes a more conservative approach. The website doesn’t explicitly state that it has multi-screen plans during the signup process, but both the “Basic” and the “Ad-Free” plans can stream to two devices simultaneously. This gives family members the ability to share a plan without encouraging illegitimate or excessive account sharing.
But don’t worry, Hulu knows that account sharing is a thing, and it makes a ridiculous amount of money from the phenomena.
If you don’t already know, Hulu offers a “Hulu + Live TV” plan. This plan costs $45 a month ($51 for no ads), and it’s basically a cheap cable package that you can stream to any device. Like cable, this plan has optional add-ons, like HBO subscriptions, DVR upgrades, and the mythical Unlimited Screens add-on.
Now, the Unlimited Screens add-on costs an extra $15 a month, and that’s on top of the $45 a month for a basic Hulu + Live TV subscription. Do a little math, and a shareable Hulu account will cost you a decent $720 a year ($792 with no ads). And of course, that number can only go higher if you pony up for some sports and network TV add-ons.
Amazon Prime Video
Unlike Hulu or Netflix, Amazon Prime Video is part of a package service—Amazon Prime. As you’re probably well aware, your Amazon Prime account comes with free e-books, free 1-day shipping, music streaming, Twitch Prime, and a mess of other benefits.
Obviously, Amazon doesn’t want to give all of these benefits away for free. But the company doesn’t have to worry too much about account sharing, because every Prime account is linked to a credit card and the Amazon marketplace.
When you share your Netflix account with a stranger, you have nothing to lose. That stranger can’t access your credit card or steal your identity. But if you start handing out your Prime login at some bar (or among actual friends), you’re putting yourself at significant risk. Anyone with access to your Amazon account can order products using your credit card.
As a result, Amazon is pretty lax about account sharing. Because the practice carries a load of consumer-level risks, the company doesn’t have to put much effort into moderation. In fact, Amazon has a Household feature that makes it easy for you to share and organize your account among family members. You can add up to six people to an Amazon Household, and Prime Video can be streamed to three separate devices simultaneously.
HBO NOW and HBO GO
HBO says “members of your household” can sign into your account from multiple different devices. HBO doesn’t say how many people can watch at once, but you may see a message about too many simultaneous streams “for security reasons.”
Like other services, HBO insists that you shouldn’t share your account with anyone “outside your household.” But what’s a household? Are your kids who went off to college part of your household? What about all your roommates? If your kids can keep watching HBO in a different state after they move out, what about your parents across town?
This gray area is pretty standard for HBO. Using a relatives’ cable login to access HBO GO was a tried and true method for watching HBO when getting HBO required a cable subscription. That same gray area applies if you subscribe to HBO Now directly.
YouTube TV and Google Play
In the past few years, Google Play transformed from an individual service to one with family sharing. This is great news for account sharers, and it’s probably a result of products like Google Assistant and the Chromecast, which need to operate seamlessly for each person in a household.
Google’s new focus on families has extended to its premium digital services. Both YouTube TV and Google Play allow users to create 5-person family groups (using separate Google logins), and those five “family members” can access all of the content that’s available to the group’s “family manager.” Sadly, only three devices in a group can stream video at a time.
Google knows that its family-oriented features are used for illegitimate account sharing. But YouTube TV is just getting its feet off the ground, and Google Play is a store, not a subscription service. If four people mooch a Youtube TV subscription, the service will only become more popular. And if someone creates a Google Play group for four friends, then that’s just four more people that could buy a show or movie on Google Play.
Sling, fuboTV, DirecTV Now, and Philo
As you can imagine, small cable-like services aren’t always open to account sharing. It’s difficult to compete with billion-dollar brands like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV, especially when a bunch of other tiny cable-streaming companies is trying to steal your customers.
Of the small cable-streaming sites, Philo is the best for account sharing. Its basic plan only costs $20 a month, but users can stream content on up to three devices at a time. Similarly, Sling’s $25 a month “Blue” program allows users to stream on three devices at a time, but “Blue” users miss out on some TV channels.
Oddly enough, the expensive cable-streaming services are less open to account sharing than their cheaper counterparts. fuboTV’s $45 basic package allows for streaming on two devices at a time, and you have to pay an extra $6 a month if you want to share to three devices. And DirecTV Now only allows you to stream to two devices at a time, whether you’re paying for the $50 or $70 plan.
When you think of streaming services, Walmart’s VUDU rarely comes to mind. It’s really just a digital store, like iTunes, and most of its bells and whistles (like the disc-to-digital program) have fallen by the wayside.
One of those bells and whistles was the Share Movies Anywhere feature, which essentially eliminated the need for account sharing. This feature allowed users to share their library with other accounts. But now that the feature’s gone, users have to share their login credentials to share libraries, and a VUDU account can only stream content to two screens at a time. Why the change? Well, VUDU needs money.
We’re here to talk about account sharing, not failing businesses. But VUDU’s account sharing situation is directly tied to its failing business model. People don’t want to pay for digital copies of movies. If anything, it’s seen as a last resort. So VUDU has to bulk its library up with exclusive content, like Disney movies and the new Jersey Shore dating show. To land these deals with Disney and MTV, VUDU has to cut back on account sharing features, like Share Movies Anywhere.
We’ve Never Heard of Someone Being Banned
While many services say you should only share accounts with people in your household, we’ve never once heard of a video streaming service banning someone for account sharing.
At most, you might see a message saying you’re watching too many streams at once on the same account.