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How many people will be watching House of Cards?

Kevin Spacey in Netflix's "House of Cards"
Source: House of Cards | Facebook
Kevin Spacey in Netflix's "House of Cards"

Lots of people are going to be spending lots of hours watching the latest season of "House of Cards," which was released Friday.

How many, exactly, will all those viewers log? It's hard to say, because Netflix is notoriously tight-fisted with viewer data. The subscription-based service is not beholden to advertisers, so it's nearly impossible to figure out exactly how popular any of its shows actually are.

One industry insider said the numbers are protected by confidentially agreements. A second industry expert said the company specifically does not want its numbers getting out, and even he hasn't seen anything specific.

An educated estimate: Netflix had nearly 75 million streaming subscribers at the end of 2015, and FactSet consensus estimates put that figure at 82 million by the end of Q1 2016. About 6.5 percent of subscribers watched at least one episode of the third season of "House of Cards" within a month of the release date, according to rough data by Luth Research.

That suggests that a little over 5 million people will watch the first episode of the new season in the next 30 days, if it is equally popular now. That's not horrible, but it's about a third of the draw of a single episode of AMC's "The Walking Dead" or a Tuesday night "NCIS" on CBS.

Still, the point isn't to rack up viewers to appease advertisers, but to attract new subscribers and retain existing ones. In that, the evidence suggests that Netflix original content like "House of Cards," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Daredevil" have been successful draws.

According to an August survey by RBC Capital Markets, 15 percent of U.S. Netflix subscribers said that most or all of the content they viewed was original. In another survey, 23 percent said the content was a reason they subscribed.

Netflix has spent billions on new content (and is expected to shell out even more this year), and has been rewarded with steady user growth in a crowded streaming field. New domestic streaming subscriptions were up 14 percent year over year at the end of 2015, while the company's aggressive international expansion added 64 percent abroad.

The company is doubling down on original programming. It expects to launch 600 hours of its own content in 2016, up from 450 hours last year.

How much are users watching? According to the company, members streamed 42.5 billion hours of content last year, up from 29 billion the year before. So the average user is spending 570 hours per person per year on the platform.That's more than three weeks of nonstop Netflix bingeing, or about an hour and a half a day.

A 13-episode season of "House of Cards" clocks in at about 11 hours and 20 minutes. If just 1 percent of all subscribers watch the full series, viewers will spend 9.4 million hours watching the show. That's more than 13 lifetimes.