Company / division: Netflix
Netflix has confirmed that it’s raising prices for two of its three tiers of service in the US, starting this month for new subscribers and in November for existing subs. Subscribers to the $8 bottom tier won’t see an increase, but the most popular middle tier will go from $10 to $11 per month, while the premium tier will see a $2 bump from $11.99 to $13.99. I’m a bit surprised by this increase coming so soon after the company finished implementing its last price increase last year. The company’s current average revenue per paid US streaming subscriber is right around $10, and went up $2 exactly in keeping with the last price increase, suggesting that the base is dominated by that middle tier and that subscribers to the other two plans largely balance each other out. With the bigger bump to the premium tier, it’ll be interesting if we see average revenue per user rise more this time around, especially as 4K adoption increases.
I did some analysis for Variety in May last year on the last price increase and reached the conclusion that costs per subscriber were actually falling and price increases were largely about continuing to drive US margins up. That increase caused lower subscriber growth for a few quarters, though the impact was more closely tied to the timing of the announcement than the implementation for individual existing customers, which validates Netflix’s decision to push out the increase quickly this time rather than staggering it. Since I did that analysis, however, Netflix’s domestic streaming cost of revenue per subscriber has risen, which means this increase is more honestly about covering rising costs than the last one, though cost haven’t risen by nearly as much as prices will go up – monthly cost per sub has gone up by about 23 cents over the past year, so less than a quarter of the $1 price increase on the most popular tier. I wouldn’t expect as large an increase in churn this time around given that it’s a smaller increase in price, but it does mean that Q4 subscriber growth numbers in the US will take a hit and be a little lower than they would otherwise have been.
FX, a division of 21st Century Fox, today announced a broadening of its FX+ add-on service for pay TV operators to Cox Communications’ pay TV subscribers, in addition to its existing partnership with Comcast. But in some ways more interesting were comments its head made about the network’s future approach to licensing content. In essence, FX has had to pay a lot of money to undo past deals which gave various other entities rights to its content so that it could put that content back on its own streaming service, and he says he doesn’t plan to make that mistake again. Netflix was singled out in particular as a streaming service FX had licensed content to in the past but wouldn’t again, and Netflix’s shares were down around 5% today seemingly as a result. All of this of course validates Netflix’s decision a number of years ago to invest much more heavily in its own original content, which has three major drivers of which hedging against such decisions was one of the big ones. Netflix needed to control its own destiny when it came to content, and there was always the risk that it would lose its licensing deals as it increased in popularity and power. I think the 5% drop based on comments from one content owner is likely overblown – there certainly wasn’t such a strong reaction to Disney’s recent pullback, at least not right away – and in general Netflix is in pretty good shape content-wise and retains some of FX’s most popular shows for now. FX, meanwhile is pursuing a very limited strategy with its add-on network, limiting it to pay TV subscribers rather than going after cord cutters, either independently or through Amazon’s powerful Channels product, which has driven lots of subscribers for similar packages. That feels like a mistake, and something FX should rectify sooner rather than later if it wants to reach a considerably larger potential base of customers.
Last night’s Emmy awards once again provided an interesting set of insights into the winners and losers among both traditional and online streaming TV properties. HBO won the most overall awards with 29, while Netflix beat out the other streaming services with 20. Hulu did much better than in the past, almost entirely because of one show – The Handmaid’s Tale – which has been extremely well reviewed but may also have garnered additional favor by being deemed particularly relevant in today’s rather dystopian real-world political scene. That’s a huge coup for Hulu as Netflix has never won best drama, but it would be dangerous to read too much into it, given Hulu’s lack of past or broader success. Netflix won twice as many awards overall, including wins for multiple shows in different categories. Amazon, meanwhile, took away just two wins. In addition to HBO, NBC did well among the traditional TV companies, coming in third behind Netflix, while ABC, Fox, and CBS all took home single digit trophies. It still feels like HBO and Netflix are the real powerhouses when it comes to high-budget, high-quality TV, but the Hulu wins show that others in the streaming world aren’t being shut out entirely, which should be heartening to Apple and others coming into the game late but with big budgets and ambitions.
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.