Netflix May Be A More Popular Network Than FX

While Netflix didn't have the greatest year in 2011, they're still a major force to be reckoned with in the entertainment world. They're still the name probably most associated with both "DVDs by mail" and with online streaming of movies and TV content. They're producing original content with gusto, with their first show set to premiere this February. So just how big is Netflix these days? The rental service says (via Deadline) that its 20 million streaming subscribers "in 45 countries watched more than 2 billion hours of movies and TV shows in [the] last three months of 2011." If those numbers are accurate, that makes Netflix the 15th most popular TV network in the U.S., beating out both FX and the History Channel.

BTIG research analyst Rich Greenfield said that, "Netflix streaming usage is exploding and is far, far bigger than traditional media executives give it credit for.” That's not surprising, since the last two decades have been an ongoing exercise in traditional media underestimating the impact of the internet. Greenfield's claim is supported by data from the consulting firm Deloitte, who released an annual study listing several statistics that will likely make many cable and network execs break out in a cold sweat. Forty-two percent of surveyed consumers had streamed a movie over the internet in the preceding six months, versus 32% in 2010. Twenty-two percent watched a TV show via a free online service in the past year (it's unclear if Netflix, which charges a monthly subscription for its streaming service, would be included as "free"). And nine percent said they had canceled their cable or satellite service because of the ease of watching most programs online.

Whatever else you have to say about Netflix's business decisions, they've clearly still got a much bigger slice of the pie than many thought. Those numbers will be crucial as they roll out more original programming, such as House of Cards, Eli Roth's Hemlock Grove, and even the new episodes of Arrested Development. This is unexplored territory, but if they can translate a significant portion of their audience into fans of those shows, if the shows are good, and if Netflix provides its creative partners with as much or more freedom as the cable networks, Netflix will be even more of a threat to traditional networks. And I say, bring it on.