Company / division: Netflix
Variety has a quick run-down of some new data from App Annie about the usage of various mobile video apps in the twelve months to July 2017, and it shows YouTube to be dominant in that category, with 80% of total time spent for the top 10 apps. Also notable is that YouTube grossed more than Hulu on the strength of its YouTube Red subscription service, suggesting that it may be doing better than widely perceived, though that may also reflect YouTube’s role as a more mobile-centric platform while many users may pay for their Hulu subscriptions through a computer or TV box. Also worth noting is that over half the top ten video apps come from non-traditional TV brands – only HBO, Starz, CBS, and Showtime hit the top ten, while the rest are all digital-native brands. Also notable is the fact that all of those traditional TV apps have pursued the same successful strategy of opening up their entire libraries for digital rather than trying to create a digital service that’s complementary to traditional TV – that’s the winning strategy in this space, and Disney should take note as it readies an ESPN direct to consumer service for early next year.
T-Mobile today announced its latest “Un-Carrier” move today, in one of its simplest and certainly its shortest announcement so far: it’s offering free Netflix subscriptions to subscribers to its family plans. Specifically, the offer is available to subscribers who have at least two paid voice lines on the T-Mobile One plan introduced in August last year. That’s now the standard plan for new customers, but many existing customers will be on older family plans and will need to switch to those plans, which may cost more than those offered previously. Typically, two paid lines will be $120 per month with taxes and fees included, so the annual benefit of this offer is equivalent in value to a month’s wireless service. T-Mobile has just over 12 million postpaid accounts at the moment, with an average of just under 3 lines per account, so that gives some sense of the addressable market here, although many would need to switch to T-Mobile ONE to qualify. For Netflix, the upside is smallish – a few million potential new customers over the next few years – but low risk, with these subscribers likely having lower churn.
Certainly not all of those lines would qualify today, but assume that a quarter of those accounts eventually take the Netflix offer, and it ends up being about $90 million per quarter at the full $10 price, which I’m guessing Netflix isn’t paying. More realistically, at 80% of the full retail price, the cost to T-Mobile would be closer to $70 million on a revenue base of roughly $10 billion in revenue per quarter, so the cost is likely to be far from material for the company. Conversely, the Netflix offer will likely increase loyalty and therefore reduce churn and the costs associated with it, and drive more people to the T-Mobile ONE plans and thereby increase ARPU in at least some cases, so T-Mobile will not unreasonably be hoping the net effect on margins is positive.
This move is just the latest in a long string of Un-Carrier moves from T-Mobile, the vast majority of which have been fundamentally about the price or cost of service, either discounting services or throwing in freebies, while dressing the moves up as being something more. That’s clearly worked for T-Mobile, as it’s been by far the fastest growing postpaid phone operator in the US over the last several years, and this move is likely to provide a further little boost, though not a massive one. And of course it’s worth noting that AT&T has been offering free HBO to some of its unlimited subscribers for a while too, so T-Mobile certainly isn’t the first to offer a bundle, but Netflix has broader appeal in the US than HBO and the requirements to qualify are less stringent on the T-Mobile plan.
Netflix is (somewhat remarkably) making its first ever acquisition, buying comic book company Millarworld, which was started by Mark Millar and some former colleagues who had all written comic books for DC and Marvel and wanted a bigger stake in their creations, nearly 15 years ago. The terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, so it’s far from clear what the immediate financial impact on Netflix will be, either in terms of the acquisition price or the revenue or profits from adding this first bit of diversification to the business. The whole announcement from Netflix reads like a subtle dig at Marvel, which is interesting given the close relationship the two companies currently enjoy. Millar is described as a “modern-day Stan Lee”, when of course Stan Lee himself is still alive and actively involved in the community if not actively creating new content, while the release also says that Millar was behind a number of the characters whose stories have been turned into movies by Marvel Studios over the last few years. Clearly, the claim here – somewhat farfetched – is that Millarworld is the new Marvel. Several of its characters and stories have already been turned into movies in recent years, and with some success, so it’s not a totally absurd claim. But overall few of them have the mass-market name recognition of Marvel or DC’s characters, and some quick feedback from people on Twitter who are more into this world than I am suggest that as a competitor it’s a pretty distant third behind the big two. This is clearly an attempt to secure more original content for Netflix, but also something of a hedge against the time that Netflix’s deal with Disney and therefore Marvel goes away, though on the latter point the acquisition also likely raises the risk that deal does go away, so perhaps Netflix has already had signals (or has simply decided independently) that it won’t renew. But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to provide anything like the same quality or quantity of content for Netflix that the Marvel deal does.
via Netflix (PDF)
This may help explain why Netflix laid out its content economics in even more detail than usual in last week’s earnings material: it’s apparently taking out a further $500 million line of credit, with an option to extend that by an additional $250 million. The driver is clearly its rapidly growing investment in original content, which has to be paid for up front, in contrast to the existing content it licenses, which is paid for as it’s made available on the site. All of that means that shifting to original content pushes cash burn much earlier in the process and thereby dramatically increases Netflix’s negative free cash flow, something I explained in some detail in this Variety piece last month. As I’ve said before, there’s no real reason why this should be a concern for investors, as long as Netflix is able to keep up its rapid pace of revenue growth, which is currently more than enough to fund its content investments and justify its increased borrowing. But the company’s debt load continues to rise fairly rapidly and at some point it will need to ease off and see that free cash flow picture change to something more positive.
Netflix today kicked off the Q2 earnings season with the first official earnings from a company that I cover, and reported stronger than expected subscriber growth off the back of a House of Cards season launch that was pushed back from Q1. Netflix was way off on its sub growth forecast, and though it surprised on the upside this time around that hasn’t always been the case in several recent guidance misses. Even though Netflix didn’t mention it this quarter, the delayed HoC launch screwed around with lots of year on year comparisons both this quarter and last, since Q1 is usually by far its strongest quarter for subscriber adds and Q2 is usually the low point of the year. Taking a step back, though, Netflix continues on its recent tear, with international growth the major driver, and profits domestically continuing to grow nicely off the back of last year’s price increases. Importantly, Netflix is now projecting that the international business will be profitable on a contribution basis for 2017 as a whole, which will be another major milestone after total non-US subs surpassed US streaming subs for the first time in Q2. The cash flow drain continues to be rapid, with an average of over half a billion dollars per quarter in negative free cash flow over the past year, and over $2 billion in cash content costs in Q2, and $8 billion over the past year, relative to the $6 billion Netflix protected for 2017 on a P&L basis (see this Variety piece I wrote last month for why cash and P&L spending are so different). For now, the subscriber and associated revenue growth are keeping Netflix out ahead of its content spending, but Netflix absolutely has to continue to grow at close to the current rate if it’s to continue to finance massive original content costs and grow profits at the same time.
This is a good time to remind you about the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service I also offer, which provides slide decks and videos on roughly a dozen major tech companies including Netflix each quarter during earnings season. Tech Narratives subscribers get a 50% discount, so let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you a coupon code. The Q2 Netflix deck is available now, and will be updated in a few days when the 10-Q is out with more data. You’ll find some of the charts in this Twitter thread from earlier.
Netflix and HBO Lead Emmy Nominations (Jul 13, 2017)
Netflix Squeezes Fox Out of Top 4 Must-Keep Viewing Options (Jul 12, 2017)
Netflix Announces Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Shows for Kids (Jun 20, 2017)
Netflix Changes its Wording about Net Neutrality (Jun 16, 2017)
YouTube and Netflix Dominate Teens’ Video Viewing (May 2, 2017)
Netflix Agrees to License Content to Baidu Subsidiary iQIYI (Apr 25, 2017)
Note: this is my first piece of commentary on Q1 2017 earnings. The Q1 2017 tag attached to this post will eventually house all my earnings comments for this quarter, just as the Q4 2016 tag does for last quarter and the earnings tag does for all past earnings comments. Netflix is also one of the dozen or so companies for which I do quarterly slide decks as part of the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service. See here for more.
Netflix today reported its earnings for Q1 2017, and the results were mostly good, with a few possible red flags. This year, the new season of House of Cards will debut in Q2 rather than Q1, and that makes some of the year on year comparisons tough. One of the results was much weaker Q1 subscriber adds this year than a year ago in the US, worsening what’s already been a trend of slowing growth for several years. Netflix is projecting something of a recovery next quarter, however. In some ways, the biggest news was the first quarterly profit for the international business, which has neared profitability in the past but been plunged deeper into the red by market expansions every time it did so. Now that Netflix is in essentially every country it can be, that won’t be the case anymore, so although it’s projecting a return to small losses next quarter, it’s now saying it wants to be judged partly on growing revenue and margins globally over time, which is a big shift (previously it wanted to be judged on sub growth and domestic margins only).
There were a couple of mild admissions of failure: customer satisfaction in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is not what it could be, and the company’s Crouching Tiger sequel didn’t achieve its goals for original content. Marketing spend will be up at least a little in 2017, and content obligations continue to grow. The company also made clear that the big free cash flow losses caused by its investment in original content will continue for “many years”, though it also said that it will eventually throw off significant cash when it hits a “much larger revenue base”, giving I think the clearest indication yet of what a long-term project positive free cash flow will be. In the meantime, it will continue to borrow to fund that growth. Domestically, profits are growing very rapidly, and the theory continues to be that eventually the International business will reach that level of maturity too and deliver decent margins. But in the meantime, a bet on Netflix continues to be a bet on continued high growth, something which certainly isn’t guaranteed in the US and may end up being tough long term internationally too.