Despite price hikes, failed plans to spin off its DVD-by-mail business, and the loss of 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter, Netflix's Watch Instantly grew up a lot in 2011. The streaming service has become the hallmark of Netflix's offerings, and the Wall Street Journal reports that members watched over 2 billion hours of streaming content in the fourth quarter — a figure declared a "high mark" by a Netflix spokesperson. In addition to being the tenth most popular destination online by Nielsen in 2011, the uptick in usage could stem from more supported platforms, more original content, and redesigned interfaces all across the board.
Starting with the UK and Ireland in "early 2012," Netflix will be pushing Watch Instantly even more aggressively in the face of increased competition from the likes of HBO, Amazon, Apple, and new possible offerings from Verizon. The premiere of its first original production, Lilyhammer, will take place on the service on February 6th, starring Steven Van Zandt of The Sopranos and the E Street Band. It's just the first of many original shows coming exclusively to Netflix — and if any of them are hits, those streaming numbers will jump even higher.