May 16, 2013 at 9:49 AM ET
There is a sacred vow between partners who watch television together: Thou shalt not cheat.
That means no sneaking around with a tablet to watch the latest installment of "Mad Men" or "Homeland" while the other person is asleep. Skipping ahead one episode is bad enough, but the ultimate sin is to binge-watch a series and lie about it to your sweetheart.
For a cheater, though, sometimes it’s impossible to resist the urge of wanting to know what happens next.
While anecdotes of this kind of infidelity have trickled out of households all across America, Netflix has finally measured the trend. The company recently surveyed 2,068 adult Netflix users online and found that 12 percent confessed to “stream cheating” while 10 percent said they had been cheated on.
If you and your partner haven’t snuck around on each other yet, it’s likely that you’ve at least thought about it. The survey revealed that 51 percent of respondents said they would stream a program alone even after having promised to watch it together.
Many cheaters — 41 percent — have the decency not to spoil a scene for their partner. But only 14 percent would feel guilty enough to tell the truth, while 12 percent would re-watch a show and “fake it” as if it were their first time.
It may only be a television show, but stepping out on a significant other can ruffle a relationship.
“We hear people say, ‘We made a pact, we were going to watch this together,’” says Jenny McCabe, director of public relations for Netflix.
The bruised feelings, she suspects, have to do with the disappointment of missing out on the ritual of watching a program together and experiencing its plot twists and turns at the same time.
People want to “do that thing we’ve done forever — enjoy a piece of entertainment together as a bonding experience,” McCabe says.
If being cheated on doesn’t sting enough, the wronged may be especially hurt to learn when and where it happens. Almost 30 percent of respondents admitted to watching while they or their significant other was traveling and 12 percent said they’d stream while on a work break. Five percent even confessed to stealing screen time in the bathroom; Netflix confirmed that the majority of these respondents — 80 percent — were men.
Daniel MacEachern, a contributor for the website "Television Without Pity" who lives in Newfoundland, Canada, told TODAY that he and his wife occasionally betray each other with surreptitious streaming.
Most recently, his wife watched the Netflix original series "House of Cards" while home sick from work. MacEachern hadn’t explicitly said he wanted to watch it at the same time — he just assumed they would.
“She thought, ‘I’ll just watch one episode,’ but once she was four or five episodes in, there was no point in me watching it with her,” MacEachern says. “I think she was taking revenge on me because I watched 'The Walking Dead' without her.”
When one of them slips up, there is no punishment, per se.
“There aren’t really consequences for cheating other than the other gets to feel morally superior for a little while,” MacEachern says.
With the advent of on demand, DVR and streaming television, it’s likely this kind of cheating will happen in more and more households.
McCabe says the Netflix survey offers a “peek into the future” of Internet TV, in which each user gets to choose when, where and with whom to watch a program.
“How far will people go?” McCabe says, wondering if couples will make exceptions for some shows but not others. “Will they say, ‘I didn’t mind it if they stream cheated on this?’”
In his household at least, MacEachern knows where that line is drawn.
“If either of us watches the new 'Arrested Development' episodes without the other,” he says, “there'll be trouble.”