Netflix has had a run of strong earnings over the last year, driven by better-than-expected subscriber gains and relatively consistent profit. Investors like what they see, and the company’s stock has steadily climbed, closing today at an all-time high of $202 a share. But the company has also been forced to borrow large sums to cover the ever-growing costs of its original content.
The company continued its streak this past quarter, besting analyst expectations in terms of revenue and subscriber growth. The company reported $2.99 billion in revenue and 5.3 million new subscribers, a record for third quarter growth. That breaks down to 4.45 million new international customers and 850,000 new additions in the US.
Earlier this month, Netflix raised prices for subscribers in the US, bumping the per-month price of both its standard and premium tier by $1 and $2, respectively. Analysts expect the company will do the same for its international customers in the near future. “The most recent boost wasn’t international, although it’s pretty clear that one will follow,” said Clement Thibault, a senior analyst with Investing.com. “The US domestic market is also likely to see another price hike in 2018. Netflix’s $13 billion in balance sheet liabilities plus $15 billion in content obligations clamors for it.”
Thibault also noted the Netflix price increases come as competitors are moving the opposite direction. “Netflix’s price increase alongside Hulu’s price reduction creates a perfect petri dish from which to discern consumer preferences. How price-sensitive are consumers within the current content streaming environment?” Thibault wrote. So far, Netflix content offerings seem to be strong enough to keep drawing in more subscribers, even as competitors cut prices and tech giants like Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook ramp up their own original video productions.
Another potentially troubling trend, but one Netflix appears fully aware of and prepared to handle, is the move toward closed gardens in the TV ecosystem. More and more content owners are spinning up streaming services to court customers of specific products, the most recent being Disney with its plans to use streaming tech provider BAMTech, of which it now owns a majority stake, to launch its own service in 2019. Because Disney owns both Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, the company smartly plans on creating an exclusive home for those films, shows, and spinoffs. When Disney announced its plans in August, it also said it would be ending its exclusivity agreement with Netflix.
Netflix’s long-term strategy has always been to reduce its dependency on third-party content providers. That’s what’s driven CEO Reed Hastings’ voracious and risky original production gamble, one that each and every year is proving to be more prescient as viewer habits shift away from cable and Hollywood’s talent and resources recognize streaming services as worthy rivals to HBO and traditional prime time. “The long-term trends are clear. Our future largely lies in exclusive original content,” Hastings writes today in his quarter earnings letter. Netflix has now revised its 2018 original content expenditure, bumping it by an additional $1 billion to $8 billion.
On a call with analysts, Netflix executives said new competitors in the streaming landscape validates its business model. “We just have to focus on creating content that our members can’t live without and get excited about every month,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. “Whether or not one of our partners decides to produce for us or to compete with us, that’s a choice they have to make based on their own business. It’s great for consumers to have a lot of choice. We just have to be the best choice out there.”