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Matt Patches, Polygon, reporting on Netflix’s latest quarterly earnings report:

[…] Netflix estimated that it commands 10 percent of television screen time in the U.S., and slightly less than that for total mobile screen time. In other countries, the percentages are lower due to “lower penetration of our service.” The reason, Netflix said, isn’t because of obvious streaming competition, but of online platforms and video games.

“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the report indicated. 

By the end of 2018, Netflix claimed nearly 139 million paying memberships worldwide. Meanwhile, in November 2018, Epic reported that its blockbuster battle royale game commanded upwards of 200 million registered users. In its quarterly report, Netflix made clear that “consumer screen time” is its most valuable metric, and that Fortnite — just one of endless options for plugged-in audiences – offers the stiffest competition.

That Fortnite impacts Netflix more than HBO should be a clear indicator as to why Netflix expects to spend almost $15 billion on content this year. Netflix isn’t competing with HBO because HBO also makes content, Netflix competes with HBO because when you’re watching HBO you’re not watching Netflix. Sure, you could be paying for both, but once the attention scales tip too far in one direction, people begin to wonder if they really need that extra monthly subscription. Where attention goes, money follows.

This is why features like Screen Time on iOS are so interesting to me–they provide cold, hard numbers as to where I’m actually spending my time. Like Mint or YNAB for your minutes. An attention budget.

It’s not just screen things, either. Netflix shows, Facebook status updates, Fortnite matches, wood carving, genoise sponge cake baking are all–in some manner–competing for your attention. The attention economy posits that as content becomes increasingly available, attention (read: time) becomes a scarce commodity. If 200 million people started regularly baking genoise in the evenings instead of watching Netflix, you can bet we’d hear Reed Hastings say “sponge cakes” in the next quarterly report.

(Once you start thinking about the digital services and apps we use as primarily chasing your attention instead of your dollars, it becomes easier to see how addictive and downright manipulating some of these user interfaces have become. But that’s for another post.)