It’s been an upside-down summer for the long-running smash that is Netflix stock. Since early July, when the streaming service announced its first drop in U.S. subscribers for any quarter since 2011, NFLX has lost more than 20 percent of its value, or more than $30 billion in market cap.
The company blamed the subscriber swoon on its decision to raise U.S. subscription prices during a quarter when they also didn’t debut any splashy fare. And even with the modest subscription loss — 136,000 out of 60 million in the U.S. — the company reported a 26 percent increase in revenue year over year. That’s a sign that the price increase has been worth it, Netflix brass insist.
Still, the plot is thickening. The stock-price slide from $385 in early July to sub-$300 recently may have been sparked by languid subscriber numbers, but NFLX continued to slip amid concern about a coming barrage of competition walking off with important content heretofore available via Netflix. Disney plans to debut Disney+ in November with a library of 500 movies and 7,500 episodes of TV including a Star Wars series; WarnerMedia is snatching Friends away from Netflix next year for its forthcoming streaming service HBO Max; and The Office will leave Netflix for NBCUniversal’s as-yet-unnamed service in 2021.
Netflix execs claim to be sanguine about these market changes. The company insists it has been preparing for this inevitable moment with huge investments in original content, including production deals with Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, Ryan Murphy, the Obamas, and Game of Thrones bosses David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Plus, they insist, the real growth is overseas, especially in India, where last month Netflix launched a $2.80-per-month mobile-only service.
So, has Netflix lost its glow along with its Friends? Can it, in the long term, retain its streaming crown? Or is its atypical business model just a house of cards? Our bull and bear have strong and divergent views, and here are some of their reasons why.
“Netflix has a pretty significant moat around them. Whether they stay at 60 million subscribers or go to 70 million over the next five years doesn’t matter enormously from a stock-value standpoint, because the real opportunity is internationally.
There are more than 1 billion global broadband subscribers. If you take out the 400 million in China, there’s about 670 million left. At the end of last year, Netflix had about 139 million subscribers. This year they’re on track for about 170 million. So they have 25 percent of global broadband subscribers. In 2016, they were at 16 percent. Getting to a 35 percent penetration rate is not unreasonable. That’s the long-term way to look at it.
Netflix has really been successful in content that crosses language barriers and getting content to travel. Plus, they have the lowest cost of distribution of anybody, so they can take more of their profit and reinvest it in more content. All the big media companies want to do this, but a lot of their content is stuck in agreements already with cable companies.
Domestically, too, Netflix has momentum because they’re not also trying to protect an existing business. Disney, NBCUniversal, and Warner Media all have cable businesses with really good cash-flow schemes. Do they want to hurt their existing businesses to build these new services? That’s the innovator’s dilemma. And these new emerging services must focus first on the U.S., so it’ll be two or three years from now when they start looking to compete internationally with Netflix. Meanwhile, Netflix just launched a low-priced mobile-only plan in India.
I’m not concerned about the loss of content like Friends. You might binge on a show like Friends or The Office because you’re familiar with it, but you keep Netflix for the original content. Netflix’s goal is to entertain you, and as long as it’s entertaining and you feel like you’re getting good value, you’ll stay. And that’s why Disney will bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ at $12.99, which is the same price for a mid-tier subscription for Netflix, because on their own, people will wonder if it’s worth it.
The fourth quarter of this year is going to be interesting to see if Netflix takes a hit on subscription growth in the U.S. with the new services launching. But that is the short term. And then next year, some of these expensive shows from Shonda Rhimes or Ryan Murphy come out on Netflix. If people like them, they’ll keep Netflix. If not, they have a problem.
We see Netflix as a buying opportunity at $310 and project it to be at $410 by next summer. Concerns around these new services will be short-lived, and, while Netflix did just raise the price, their revenue growth accelerated. What is your goal — to have the most subscriptions or the most revenue? It’s a balance.” —Jason Helfstein, Oppenheimer & Co.
“Netflix is a company that distributes the content of others and captures most of the profit for that content. In the long run, that just makes no sense at all. For years, I’ve expected that owners of the content being licensed would eventually rebel, pull their content, and either compete directly or create a whole new release window for content to stream.
Now it’s finally happening. By my calculation, the content that generates 65 percent of the viewing hours on Netflix will leave the service. That doesn’t mean there’s no other content. There’s plenty of other stuff for Netflix to stream and plenty of originals for Netflix to fund and create. But they must replace a lot of content, and that’s an uphill battle. And they’re going to have to compete for new subscribers with all of these different services. This was all inevitable. You can’t have economic disruption over the long term, because it just doesn’t make sense. Eventually, money flows to the right people.
The second-quarter subscriber numbers should be the first signal to the passionate idiots who own Netflix that maybe their passion is misplaced. And I think the company was disingenuous in how it described what happened. They shrugged and said, ‘Well, we lost subscribers because we just didn’t have very much new content in the second quarter.’ But they completely overlooked, and I think intentionally so, the fact that they raised prices in the second quarter. And most of my competitors overlooked it.
I agree with Netflix that if had they had a more robust content lineup, it could have mitigated the churn. But this will happen again and again and again. If Netflix didn’t have enough content in June of 2019, what is June of 2021 going to look like when they’ve lost all their of WarnerMedia, Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal content? It’ll be pretty bad.
Netflix stopped giving us the amount of content they had years ago. But let’s just say Netflix has 15,000 shows. They’re losing 10,000 of them. They need to create 100 new series that have ten episodes each and they need ten seasons of those to replace what they’re going to lose from Disney, Fox, Warner, and Universal. Can they do it over ten years? Sure. Can they do it in five? Maybe. Can they do it in one? No chance. Zero probability. So you’re going to see a decline in the quantity of content pretty quickly.
The company may scramble and license content from the studios that aren’t abandoning them — CBS, Paramount, Lions Gate, Sony Pictures, and MGM. So sure, they can buy everything from those guys, but that means those guys have leverage over Netflix, and Netflix will pay a lot more than they have been.
Netflix will become a really slow-growth domestic company that spends a lot more on originals. How long does it take Shonda Rhimes or Kenya Barris or Ryan Murphy or Benioff and Weiss to come up with 262 episodes of compelling TV to replace what’s lost with Friends? And you’re competing with the guys who have the most to lose. You gonna bet on Disney to come up with new content or are you gonna bet on [Netflix content chief] Ted Sarandos? I bet on Disney.
Bulls who are relying on foreign growth seem to ignore the fact that Netflix loses money on every subscriber and has little chance of being profitable anywhere but the U.K., Canada, and a few European countries, without a substantial price increase. The bull is clearly projecting a massive one.
Netflix is coming down to earth. My $188 target values Netflix at $95 billion, so I’m not saying they’re going bankrupt. I’m saying that the valuations that some of my competitors put on this thing is just idiotic.” —Michael Pachter, Wedbush