Netflix Loses Subscribers in U.S. as Growth Slows


Netflix, the streaming juggernaut that has upended the entertainment industry, showed signs of vulnerability Wednesday when it reported that it had lost 126,000 paid subscribers in the United States during the second quarter. It was the first time it had shed domestic streaming customers since it started its digital service 12 years ago.

The company also said in its report to shareholders that it had significantly undershot the number of subscribers it expected to sign up for the period. Netflix added 2.7 million customers worldwide for the three months ending in June, well short of the five million expected by investors and down from the 5.5. million it had brought aboard in the first quarter.

The company’s stock fell more than 10 percent after the market closed, a drop of more than $17 billion in market value.

The second quarter is typically the company’s weakest time of year, but its performance this time was unusually poor. Netflix announced in January that it was raising prices by anywhere from 13 to 18 percent, depending on the subscription plan, with increases hitting existing subscribers in late March. In its statement on its second-quarter earnings, the company acknowledged that the higher rates had something to do with its failure to meet expectations.

Rupert Murdoch cashed out the bulk of his media empire to the Walt Disney Company, which will unveil its new streaming product, Disney Plus, by November. Apple has also gotten in on the game, spending more than $1 billion on Hollywood talent for Apple TV Plus, which is scheduled for a fall debut.

“It’s not a zero-sum competition,” Mr. Hastings said. “People will subscribe to multiple shows. I’d wager that most Netflix employees are HBO subscribers.” He added that the media narrative around the so-called streaming wars would only help Netflix.

“It draws more attention, and because of that consumers shift more quickly from linear TV to streaming TV,” he said, referring to traditional television.

As part of its effort to ramp up its original offerings last year, Netflix signed Ryan Murphy, the prolific producer behind “Glee” and the anthology series “American Crime Story” and “American Horror Story,” to a five-year deal said to be worth nearly $300 million.

After wooing him away from 21st Century Fox, Netflix signed another name producer, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” away from the Walt Disney Company, giving her a nine-figure deal.

Netflix released its second-quarter report a little more than a week after the news that it would lose the North American rights to “Friends,” the NBC sitcom that has had a highly remunerative afterlife in syndication and online.

“Friends” was the second-most-watched show on Netflix in 2018, according to Nielsen, which is probably why the company was willing to pay as much as $100 million to stream the show worldwide in 2019. But starting next year, American and Canadian customers will be able to find it only on HBO Max after AT&T exercised an option worth over $80 million a year for a five-year period to keep it exclusively on its forthcoming streaming service. Netflix will still have rights to “Friends” internationally.

Also beginning in 2020, Netflix’s North American subscribers will have to go elsewhere for “The Office,” another NBC show that has shown durability as a rerun. NBCUniversal, which owns the show, grabbed the rights to stream it in North America after agreeing to pay $100 million a year for the next five years. Netflix lost out after coming in under that amount.

The streaming giant is likely to spend those dollars on more original and fully owned shows and films.

Netflix noted in its report that its second-quarter slate of programming, lacking fresh episodes of two of its original hits, “The Crown” and “Stranger Things,” was not as robust as it had been the previous quarter.

It also forecast subscriber gains for the current quarter, when the new season of “Stranger Things” was made available. The company said it expected to add more than seven million customers during the summer months.



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