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Netflix takes on $400 million in new debt to fund original content and European expansion

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Cheap money makes it easy for Netflix to get aggressive with its growth plans

Netflix Reed Hastings stock photos from CES 2014
Netflix Reed Hastings stock photos from CES 2014

In the battle between Netflix and HBO, things are continuing to heat up. In its most recent quarter Netflix pulled way ahead of HBO in terms of its number of US subscribers, and saw shows like House of Cards pick up the kind of awards HBO is used to winning. But Netflix still trails far behind HBO's more than 100 million global subscribers and doesn't produce nearly the volume of original content.

Today Netflix formally announced it was planning to raise $400 million in debt to fund European expansion and the creation of new original shows. It's not the first tech company in recent months to take advantage of very favorable interest rates. Apple had $145 billion in the bank when it decided to take on fresh debt to finance a stock buyback. Verizon employed a similar logic when it borrowed nearly $50 billion to finance its own buyback from Vodafone.

"At $900 million of total longterm debt, we will have an extremely modest debt-to-equity ratio," CEO Reed Hastings said in the company's fourth-quarter letter to shareholders. How many new shows does that mean Netflix fans can expect? A study by TV agent Peter Micelli estimated that the average episode of original content costs Netflix around $4 million.