Mozilla & DRM: What If Firefox Shut Out Netflix?

Mozilla is getting the heat because of its plan to integrate features that support the DRM system that TV & movie studios want into Firefox. Mitchell Baker stated in her blog post that Mozilla had to make this move because it needs to serve (and keep) Firefox users who use sites like Netflix and Hulu.

The outcry is mainly from community and Open Source supporters that think Mozilla is not staying true to its values in supporting an Open Web. It also doesn’t help that Mozilla chose Adobe’s DRM functionality in the move.

Now, you may be wondering: why can’t Mozilla just take the hit and shut out users who subscribe to Netflix?

I did some number-crunching and I came to the conclusion that Mozilla has taken the pragmatic and practical approach. Losing Netflix now (at least in the United States) could mean at least an 14% drop in it the Firefox user base.


Looking at the table, it is apparent that Netflix’ US subscriber base is growing in a strong and steady pace. Contrasting that to Firefox usage growth, estimates suggest that Firefox is not growing as fast, with other data sources suggesting that its market share is on the decline.

If we now take the numbers further and make projections, the picture becomes more challenging for Firefox:


With the projected numbers, it actually becomes harder for Mozilla to turn away Netflix as it gathers more subscribers. The possibility of one in every five Firefox users in the US is a Netflix subscriber could be a reality in two years, as the projections suggest.

I could imagine Netflix at the negotiating table drumming up staggering numbers like these. I think Firefox’ market share would be hurt tremendously if users in a key market like the US would flock to other browsers to watch video content as other sites like Hulu and Amazon would be requiring the DRM system.

Such exodus could reduce Firefox market share to 14-15% in the US, as per StatCounter stats. If that were to happen, it would take a massive effort to reclaim the market share.

Bottomline, refusing to support the DRM system and potentially losing users in the process would be a big blow to Mozilla as it seeks larger influence in pushing the Open Web further.

How did I come up with the numbers?

I estimated the number of Firefox users in the United States from stats I obtained from Wolfram Alpha and StatCounter’s quarterly browser market share— I assumed that the market share is proportionate to the total internet users.

I then researched Netflix subscriber stats from its quarterly report. I must note that the second quarter (Q2) subscriber figure is a projection and not actual data.

Finally, I extrapolated the portion of Firefox users who subscribe to Netflix, and the corresponding ratio from the total users.

I am the first one to say that the source data may not be 100% accurate and I made big assumptions, that’s why I would caution everyone not to take the figures as infallible. In the absence of actual Firefox stats, I figured this is the best info at my disposal.