It’s hard to imagine now, but Netflix Inc. pretty much had the entire streaming-TV industry to itself for a good seven years. The DVD-mailing pioneer launched its video-on-demand component in 2007, but it wasn’t until this year that streaming video, also called over-the-top TV, hit its stride. Netflix’s archrival, HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc., finally launched its own stand-alone service this month following Dish Network Corp.’s bundle-busting over-the-top service Sling TV, which launched in January.
Add to that an original-content push from Amazon -- which nabbed a Golden Globe for its breakout hit “Transparent” -- and a rumored content effort from Google’s YouTube, and you have to ask: Is the video-on-demand playing field getting too crowded?
If it is, it’s not showing up in Netflix’s subscriber base -- at least not yet. Netflix will report first-quarter 2015 earnings Wednesday, and analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect the Los Gatos, California, company to add 1.8 million U.S. subscribers and another 2.26 million international subscribers for the three-month period ended March 31. “We believe that international subscribers have two- to three-times faster profit trajectories than in the U.S.,” Laura Martin, an analyst for Needham, said in a research note last week.
The net additions are likely to push Netflix past its stated goal of 60 million global streaming subscribers (40.9 million domestic and 20.5 million international, according to Martin), but the numbers indicated a slowdown from the previous quarter, when Netflix added 4.3 million streaming subscribers in its best quarter ever.
The Netflix-HBO rivalry is reflected in the two companies’ subscriber trends. Netflix famously surpassed HBO in 2012, when HBO ended the year with 28.7 million domestic subscribers compared with Netflix’s then 27.15 million subscribers, as Variety reported. Time Warner responded by breaking out HBO’s profit and growth numbers for the first time in 2014, showing it had far more international subscribers than its rival -- for a global total of 133 million, according to Bloomberg.
Higher Revenue, Lower Profits
Faced with competition from HBO, Netflix has been aggressively investing in new content, and those investments will show in the company’s bottom line. Revenue is expected to rise 24 percent to $1.57 billion, compared with $1.27 billion for the same period last year, according to analysts. But earnings per share are expected to drop 19.5 percent to 69 cents per share, with net income falling 18 percent to $43.5 million.
As of late, Netflix’s original series have been a mix of critical hits and misses. The Tina Fey-created comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” released in March, garnered near universal praise, while critical reception for the thriller “Bloodline” was lukewarm. Both were perhaps more successful than the expensive epic “Marco Polo,” which was released in December but attracted mixed reviews.
Netflix doesn’t share viewership data about its original shows, so gauging the success of its original offerings entails a lot of supposition and guesswork.
Netflix will report first-quarter 2015 financial results on Wednesday at 3 p.m. PDT. Analysts are generally giddy over the rapidly growing company, with most maintaining a “buy” or a “strong buy” rating, and they have reason to be. More people are not only subscribing to Netflix, they’re spending more time with it. According to an analysis of comScore data by Nomura research, Netflix users spent 24.2 percent more time with Netflix in the quarter when compared with the same period last year. That’s a larger growth percentage than Facebook, Pandora and Google combined.
Can the good times last? Richard Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, said he thinks so, at least for the next few years. “We are even more confident that Netflix can reach the 100 million global subscriber level by the end of 2017,” he wrote in a research note last week.
Netflix shares closed Tuesday up 0.85 percent at $478.71.