Whether it’s the expectation that all winning streaks must come to an end, or because no journalist can resist an easy pun, the business press of late has been abuzz with tales of analysts and investors who may have finally “chilled” on Netflix Inc. But there’s still plenty of love to go around for the video-streaming giant, which is expected to show record revenue and astounding international subscriber growth Monday when it reports earnings for the fiscal first quarter.
True, actual profits are still elusive, and the Los Gatos, California, company is facing a number of external challenges that could become an asterisk to its position as one of the most valuable companies in the technology sector, but many Netflix loyalists simply won’t care as long as its number of subscribers — the only metric that seems to matter — keeps going up.
And it is. Netflix’s global aspirations kicked into overdrive in January when it rolled out service to more than 130 new countries, and that larger footprint will show. An estimate this week from Goldman Sachs said Netflix is expected to add 4.4 million international subscribers, and another 1.8 million domestic subscribers, for the three months ending March 30. That would put the company at 80.96 million global subscribers, slightly ahead of Netflix’s internal estimate of 80.86 million.
Netflix ended 2015 with 74.76 million global subscribers, including 44.74 million in the United States and 30.02 international.
Analysts say Netflix’s heavy investments in original content are paying off — not just domestically but overseas, where consumers are attracted to its increasingly diverse lineup. Last year, the company unleashed original efforts aimed at almost every TV demographic, including two sitcoms, “Master of None” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the documentary whodunit “Making a Murderer” and the superhero drama “Marvel’s Daredevil.” It also premiered the crime drama “Narcos,” which is set in Colombia and aimed at Spanish- and English-speaking markets.
“We believe the cadence and consumer appeal of Netflix’s original/licensed content is leading to greater than expected global net subscriber additions,” Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, said in a research note Wednesday.
Those investments, however, are coming at the cost of immediate profits. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect Netflix to report first-quarter net income of $14.52 million, compared with $23.7 million in the same period last year. Earnings per share are expected to fall to 3 cents, compared to 5 cents last year. Conversely, Netflix’s revenue is expected to jump almost 25 percent to $1.97 billion.
As a pure picture of financial health, it’s a mixed bag, but there is research to back up Greenfield’s view that Netflix’s original content is doing its job of keeping current customers happy and attracting new ones. A survey this month from Cowen and Company found that 58 percent of Netflix streaming customers now say they subscribe because of the original content offerings, up from 37 percent in December 2014 and 11 percent in February 2013.
That increasing attraction to shows and movies that only Netflix can provide will come in handy next month as an estimated 36 percent of Netflix’s U.S. high-definition, or HD, streaming subscribers are hit with a significant price increase. The hikes were announced two years ago, but were reported again in the media earlier this month after some investor notes estimated its impact. As reported, subscribers of Netflix’s HD service who had been “grandfathered” in at a lower rate will see their rates increase from $7.99 a month to $9.99 a month.
While the increase is likely to send some subscribers packing — particularly at a time when competitors like Hulu and Amazon Prime are nipping at Netflix’s heels — analysts expect the damage to be minimal, as does Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, who said in a letter to shareholders in January that he did not anticipate a sizable exodus. “Given these members have been with us at least two years, we expect only slightly elevated churn,” he said.
Netflix will report first-quarter 2016 financial results on Monday after the markets close. A conference call with Hastings is planned for 5 p.m. EDT.