Game of Thrones’ biggest threat may be Netflix… not white walkers

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Dec 21, 2017, 12:04 PM EST (Updated)

If you needed more evidence that Netflix is luring more viewers than ever away from traditional TV — thanks in no small part to a huge roster of binge-ready genre shows like Stranger Things, Daredevil, and Black Mirror — well, here it is.

In a far-ranging research survey that covers TV viewers’ habits and preferences for 2017, the number crunchers at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) dig up a lot of interesting tidbits, but none more telling than this: Netflix has caught up with cable, as traditional pay TV viewers continue to cut the cord. For the first time since launching its streaming service in 2007, Netflix on its own now has exactly as many subscribers as all U.S. cable television providers combined.

The PWC reports finds that 73 percent of all U.S. households with annual incomes of more than $40,000 subscribe to Netflix. That’s the same percentage that subscribe to cable.

Tellingly, those numbers appear to be heading in opposite directions, with the percentage of cable subscribers down from last year’s 76 percent. PWC didn’t compare Netflix’s subscription rate for 2017 with the previous year, but the company’s subscription base has surged impressively over the past year, both in the U.S. and overseas.

The report doesn’t delve into what kind of programming has made Netflix so appealing to viewers, but it does offer up a few insights that align with the streaming giant’s greatest strengths.

“Exclusive content — including original content — is a key component of creating a successful streaming service, but it’s not enough,” the report notes, citing viewers’ preference for a variety of programming (37 percent) over the importance they place on exclusivity (27 percent). “Focus group respondents are unenthusiastic about original content produced by providers without an established reputation for it,” PWC adds.

Particularly with Netflix’s genre content, where hit shows often come pre-delivered with a big name attached, that definitely appears to be the case. Netflix’s stable of six in-house Marvel originals, as well as celebrity-loaded series like Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters — which features the voice acting talents of Kelsey Grammer, Mark Hamill, and the late Anton Yelchin —  attract first-time viewers by giving them some idea of what they’re in for.

But the other takeaway may be that the Netflix brand itself is becoming a tentpole for viewers in its own right, and that’s a claim no cable company ever could make. For every Netflix show that touts a Marvel logo or a celebrity cast, there are other massive successes — like Stranger Things or Orange Is the New Black — that no one saw coming ahead of time.

“Viewers are most eager to watch — and pay for — a streaming service from a brand that already has an established presence with unique content,” the report states. “This reinforces the idea that powerful branding can drive success in a sea of clutter.”

For the time being, even as eager streaming competitors prepare to storm the cord-cutting gates, Netflix fits that description to a tee.

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