Netflix stock has trended lower since the short-lived excitement following the company’s third-quarter earnings report. The strong earnings results boosted Netflix stock to a new all-time high, but the shares have been sliding ever since.
Netflix to spend $8 billion on content in 2018
The company’s management has revealed that they’ve earmarked a massive $8 billion for original content next year as the company wades further into movies with 80 new ones to be added to its growing pile of hit series. According to the Harvard Business Review, no other online player is planning to spend as much as Netflix on original content, so it seems investors had a good, long think about that $8 billion, especially given the bottom-line miss.
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The company did increase its monthly subscription prices to help offset all this content spending, so while it hasn’t yet reached HBO’s $15 monthly subscription price, it’s heading in that direction. Even names like Disney are starting to catch a whiff of something that smells like cable TV, if the end of its deal with Netflix is any indication. Disney doesn’t typically run its movies or on competing cable TV networks and instead reserves them for its own channels.
Netflix to become like old-school TV?
In a post for Harvard Business Review, Joshua Gans suggests that Netflix is starting to look like “an old-school TV network” and predicts that give years from now, there could be “a set of online channels with the expectation that consumers will subscribe to all or most of them.”
Indeed, the TV industry is definitely heading in this direction, but he also makes an even more interesting prediction that should be of interest to investors who are worried about how much Netflix is spending on original content. If Gans is correct, then Netflix won’t have to be shelling out billions and billions of dollars for many more years because all the content that’s currently being bought by traditional TV players will be for sale cheap when they start to really struggle.
On the other hand, being an Internet player in TV can be a double-edged sword, he adds, because it’s very easy for family members to share a Netflix subscription, even if they live in different parts of the country. When students go off to college, they’re still using their parents’ subscription, and he notes that this could be why Netflix is raising the price of its multi-stream plan by $2 rather than the $1 increase the other plans are getting.
At some point, the company could struggle to gain subscribers simply because of the password sharing issue, but for now, it has managed to record strong growth, bucking the trend currently felt by traditional TV providers. Netflix had 109.25 million total streaming subscriptions during the third quarter, including both paid and trial memberships. The company had 52.77 million domestic subscribers and 56.48 million international subscribers.
Subscribers spending less time watching Netflix
Interestingly, Verto Analytics said earlier this week that even though Netflix added more customers, its subscribers are spending less time watching it. Based on Verto App Watch data, the firm found a 23% year-over-year decline in minutes spent, as subscribers spent an average of 170 minutes watching Netflix in September compared to 222 minutes in September 2016.
“This highly-focused strategy of expanding the subscriber pool and fine-tuning the user experience, while developing original content, has kept Netflix ahead of the game,” Verto founder and CEO Dr. Hannu Verkasalo explains. “However, the slight decrease in user time spent indicates the competition between emerging platforms like Hulu – whose audience has nearly doubled in the last year – as well as HBO Go and Sling TV. Original programming such as Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO’s Big Little Lies swept last month’s Emmys, [which] demonstrates they are forces to be reckoned with.”
If the future TV market looks like a handful of online players, Netflix being one, then measurement is going to become a new problem. Investors haven’t worried much about it yet because the company’s business model is based on subscriptions, and at first, all that seems to matter is that people are paying for it.
Why measurements could eventually affect Netflix stock
However, measuring Netflix’s true viewership is a problem for investors, although it hasn’t yet been an issue for Netflix stock. The company doesn’t release viewership numbers for its shows. Some would argue that it doesn’t need to because it doesn’t sell advertising, but those viewership numbers could inform Netflix stock in the future by enabling investors to gauge whether or not subscribers will keep paying for it.
Nielsen revealed this week that it has been collecting viewership data on Netflix using audio recognition software, which basically means that its meters are listening in on the homes they are in. Not only is this creepy to have someone listening in on what’s going on inside your home, it’s also liable to be fraught with errors, and unfortunately, it doesn’t cover diary-only markets. Nielsen typically hands out meters to participating homes in big markets only, which means that there are hundreds of U.S. markets that are measured only by people marking what they watched down in a book.
If nothing else, perhaps Nielsen’s horrible attempt at measuring viewership for the company’s shows will convince management that they need to release real numbers. After all, if Nielsen’s results end up being bad for Netflix stock because they were poorly measured, management will have two choices: take the hit from something that’s not even accurate or release real numbers to show investors why they should keep owning Netflix stock.