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Netflix to soon cross 100 mn subscriber mark; Sports not to be part of recipe

MUMBAI: Internet TV network Netflix has said in a letter to shareholders that it expects to soon cross the 100 million subscriber mark globally.

“We remain incredibly excited about the opportunity in front of us to build a truly global and durable internet TV business. We expect to cross the 100 million member mark this weekend. It’s a good start,” Netflix wrote in its letter.

As the slate of content expands, Netflix will spend over $1 billion in 2017 marketing content to drive member acquisition. At the same time it admitted that in terms of original content creation that satisfies local audiences it has some way to go in markets like Asia.

Also, all its original movies haven’t worked. In terms of the release strategy of its original movies it said that it is open to working with theatrical chains but its subscribers should be the first to see them since they are funding the movies. Consumers, Netflix argued, should choose if they want to see Netflix made movies in theatre chains in the US or if they want to see it on the streaming service.

Netflix has also said that it is not interested in sports, though Amazon has bought rights to some NFL matches. “Investors ask us about Amazon’s move into NFL football. That is not a strategy that we think is smart for us since we believe we can earn more viewing and satisfaction from spending that money on movies and TV shows.”

Netflix added 4.95 million streaming video subscribers worldwide in the three-month period ended 31 March 2017. Wall Street was looking for Netflix to add 5.27 million new subscribers and Netflix had projected that it would add 5.2 million.

“In Q1, we surpassed $2.5 billion in quarterly streaming revenue and added 5 million members. The opportunity provided to us by the growth of the global internet is gigantic and our plan is to keep investing as we increase membership, revenue and operating margins,” said Netflix.

“Due to content (primarily ‘House of Cards’ season five) moving from Q1 to Q2, we had higher operating margins in Q1 (as forecasted) at 9.7% than our plan for the year (about 7%). We forecast operating margin at 4.4% in Q2, placing us on track to reach our 7% target for the full year.

“The other effect of the content moves is lower net adds in Q1 compared to prior year (as expected) and heavier net adds in Q2 compared to prior year (about double). We have come to see these quarterly variances as mostly noise in the long-term growth trend and adoption of internet TV. For the first half of this year, for example, we expect to have 8.15 million net adds, compared to 8.42 million net adds in the first half last year.

“International net additions decreased 22% year over year, as we lapped our January 2016 launch of over 130 countries, and the accompanying early surge demand, in Q1 2016. Revenue for the international segment grew by 62% year over year, excluding a -$12 million impact from currency, while ASP rose 12% year over year on a F/X neutral basis. Q1 was the first quarter of consolidated profit for our international segment as profit growth in our more mature territories offset investments in newer markets. Our forward guidance shows that we intend to continue to invest internationally, projecting a small loss for Q2.

“We have high satisfaction and are rapidly growing in Latin America, Europe, and North America. We are making good strides in improving our content offering to match local tastes in Asia, Middle East, and Africa, but have much progress to make, like in Latin America a few years ago.

“Our year-over-year streaming revenue growth is benefiting from a price change in mid 2016, and will moderate over the course of the year to track membership growth more closely. We are seeing a small but steady migration to our 4-stream, 4K-UHD-HDR video quality tier, which is our high end plan. That will keep revenue growth slightly above membership growth, holding F/X constant.

“For the last several years we’ve had flat operating margins due to established markets funding international expansion with every spare dollar we had. Because of that, the major indicators of our progress were member and revenue growth and US contribution margins. Starting this year, we can be primarily measured by revenue growth and (global) operating margins as our primary metrics.”

Content

Netflix added that with a growing member base spread across the world, it seeks to please diverse tastes with a wide breadth of content. It highlighted key releases this past quarter like ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, which it said is a dark comedy for the entire family

On 17 March 2017, Netflix debuted ‘Marvel’s Iron Fist’, which has quickly become
another highly viewed Marvel series, and sets the stage for ‘The Defenders’, which brings together all the characters from the Marvel series later this year.

A week later, it launched ‘Ingobernable’, the second Mexican series, starring Kate del Castillo, which it said has been very popular in Mexico. On the last day of Q1, it unveiled ‘13 Reasons Why’.

Netflix pointed out that it has also stepped up investment in stand-up comedy which it believes can help grow the business, like the original series. “Early results are promising; the triumphant return of a comedy legend in ‘Dave Chappelle: Collection 1’ was our most viewed comedy special ever. We are also finding this to be true in international markets as well, with comedian Gad Elmaleh’s ‘Gad Gone Wild’ , a breakout hit in France last quarter.

“Just ahead of the release of our third film from Adam Sandler, ‘Sandy Wexler’, we announced the renewal of our deal with Sandler to premiere an additional four films exclusively on Netflix around the world. We continue to be excited by our Sandler relationship and our members continue to be thrilled with his films. Since the launch of ‘The Ridiculous 6’, Netflix members have spent more than half a billion hours enjoying the films of Adam Sandler.

“We recently hired Scott Stuber to lead our original films initiative. Our goal remains the same: to offer a variety of new movies that will attract and delight members at better economics relative to licensing movies under traditional windowing. Some of our early movies have been successful by this measure, such as the Sandler movies and ‘Siege of Jadotville’. Others, such as ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’:

Sword of Destiny’, have not. Scott’s mandate is to increase both the portfolio and the percentage of films that delight many of our members relative to the film’s cost.

“Since our members are funding these films, they should be the first to see them. But we are also open to supporting the large theatre chains, such as AMC and Regal in the US, if they want to offer our films, such as our upcoming Will Smith film ‘Bright’, in theatres simultaneous to Netflix. Let consumers choose.”

Product

Netflix said that as always, its product team has dozens of tests running in the endless quest for even higher member satisfaction. One test that won conclusively last year and has now been rolled out to all members is our new “thumbs-up thumbs-down” feedback model, replacing the 5-star model it had had from the DVD days.

“The amount of usage we get with this new approach is over twice as many ratings. With this additional personal input, we’ll be able to improve personalisation, making your front screen on Netflix even more relevant.

“A multi-year effort ahead is to have video replace still images in our user experience in ways that please our members and help them choose what to watch. Video for choosing video is an obvious direction, but doing it well through our interface takes judgment, creativity, and testing. In April, we will add Thai and later in the quarter, Romanian and Hebrew, to the 24 languages we currently support.

Marketing

As the slate of content expands, Netflix will spend over $1 billion in 2017 marketing its content to drive member acquisition.

“As part of this, we are investing more in programmatic advertising with the aim of improving our ability to do individualised marketing at scale and to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. Buttressing this activity is the substantial earned media coverage around the Netflix brand, technology and content we generate globally through events and activities aimed at journalists and social media influencers. We also market our content extensively to members through our service and with our partners. For instance, we participated in Comcast’s Watchathon in April, providing X1 subscribers unlimited access to Netflix for a week.”

Competition

Netflix believes virtual MVPDs (like Sling, Playstation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and Hulu’s forthcoming service) will likely be more directly competitive to existing MVPD services since they offer a subset of the same channels at $30-$60 per month, and may appeal to a segment of the population that doesn’t subscribe to a pay TV bundle.

“But we don’t think it will have much of an impact on us as Netflix is largely complementary to pay TV packages. Our focus also is on on-demand, commercial free viewing rather than live, ad-supported programming,” the company said.