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Do the right thing: SVOD, video platforms deal with inactivity

Many SVOD providers do not want to email inactive users for fear they will cancel. Some video platform providers could help customers stay under broadband caps by implementing an inactivity timer. Both need to do the right thing and help their customers save money.

Zombie accounts

One of the things not openly talked about in online TV is the issue of inactive accounts. People may sign up for a service, watch a few shows, and then forget about the service. The charge on their credit card can go unnoticed for months, sometimes even years. For me, this happened several times, and with services a lot more expensive than SVOD!

SVOD services know they have these inactive – or zombie – accounts. They also know that sending an email to the account holder to get them to watch more is risky. It might remind them to cancel the service. Hence, service providers often give zombie accounts the silent treatment.

Netflix has taken the bold step to reach out to zombie account holders to remind them of their membership. The company will send an email to an account holder asking if they want to retain their membership under two circumstances:

  • If the account has not been used for one year after signing up
  • If the account has not been used for two consecutive years.

If Netflix does not receive a reply to their email, the account will automatically be closed.

Why it makes sense to help close zombie accounts

Netflix investors worried about the impact on the company’s bottom can relax. Eddy Wu, Director of Product Innovation, says the effect will be small:

“These inactive accounts represent less than half of one percent of our overall member base, only a few hundred thousand, and are already factored into our financial guidance.”

Given the small impact, it makes a lot of sense to remind zombie account holders of their mistake. Nothing annoys people more than spending money on a service they do not use. Some of that annoyance is certain to rub off on the offending service provider.

Perhaps it is time for other SVOD providers to do the right thing and let zombie account holders know they are still paying for service.

Inactivity timers for video platforms

Perhaps one of the most common, unthinking behaviors for viewers is to turn the TV off when they have finished watching. With traditional TV, the action is not a problem since there are no incremental costs. However, many people must deal with broadband caps. Turning the TV off while still streaming video can lead to overage charges from broadband providers, and fees can mount up quickly. For example, Buckeye Broadband charges $15 for an additional 50 Gbytes and has broadband tiers with caps as low as 10 Gbytes!

With binge-viewing features in SVOD apps commonplace and the rise in ad-supported linear streaming channels, a viewer can easily end up streaming hours or even days of content with the TV off. Some services provide an inactivity timer. For instance, Sling TV implemented a four-hour inactivity timer which automatically stops streaming if a viewer does not acknowledge they are still watching. However, it recently implemented a change, due to customer demand, to allow the timer to be disabled.

However, the service app is not the best place to implement the inactivity timer. If the streaming device implements it, a user can set it once and forget it, knowing that every app is covered.

Roku implements bandwidth saver

Late last year, Roku added a bandwidth saver feature. If the viewer does not touch the Roku remote for four hours, a window pops up, asking if he or she is still there. The system returns to the home screen if the viewer does not acknowledge the query window. The bandwidth saver feature is enabled by default.

There is a disincentive for Roku to implement a feature like bandwidth saver. The company reports quarterly on the number of hours of content streamed. Investors want to see streaming hours increase as it speaks directly and indirectly to the health of Roku’s business. In Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, the quarter-over-quarter growth in average active user streaming hours was much lower than the average for the previous year.

For people with low broadband caps, bandwidth saver could help them avoid a lot of overage charges. Hopefully, competitor platforms such as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV will implement the feature soon.

Why it matters

SVOD services are often fearful of contacting inactive users in case this reminds them to cancel.

Video platforms often continue streaming with the television off, exposing users to potentially high broadband overage charges.

Both groups need to do the right thing and help their inactive users save money.


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