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Netflix stock plummets after streaming video company misses subscriber target

Wall Street is disappointed in Netflix's subscriber growth. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Has the bubble finally burst on Netflix?

The video streaming company’s stock plunged more than 10 percent Tuesday morning after Netflix’s latest earnings numbers fell short of Wall Street’s expectations for subscriber growth.

The streaming giant, which had previously had five quarters of meeting or exceeding analyst expectations, announced Monday afternoon that it had added just 670,000 subscribers in the United States. That was compared to the 1.2 million many analysts predicted in the second quarter, and 4.5 million overseas subscribers instead of the 5.1 million projected.

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While the misses seem minuscule for a company with more than 125 million global subscribers, they could validate investors' fears of a company in slowdown mode for the first time in years. Wall Street has already been watching closely as Disney ramps up its subscription-content efforts and HBO, under incoming owner AT&T, is adopting a new strategy to compete.

Meanwhile, technology rivals such as Apple are upping their content efforts.

Analysts fear the added competition will lure away existing subscribers or prevent new ones from signing up with Netflix, resulting in a long-term revenue decline. They also are watching carefully for signs of a streaming ceiling–the point at which many of the people in the U.S. and around the world who are interested in signing up for video streaming have already done so.

The news of just 5.2 million total subscriber adds was especially pointed for Wall Street given Netflix’s addition of 7.4 million in the first quarter, well ahead of the 6.5 million projected then.

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The news could end a rocket ride for Netflix’s stock price, which has more than doubled over the past year.

The company did come in just below analyst expectations on earnings, at $3.91 billion compared to estimates of $3.94 billion.

Executives sought to downplay the subscriber slowdown in a call with analysts later in the evening.

“The fundamentals have never been stronger,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, as he suggested the quarter was more anomaly than omen. “Our viewing is setting year-over-year records.”

David Wells, the company’s chief financial officer, said that the first two quarters should be judged in their totality, which would bring growth on track with projections, and that he still believed subscriber growth would meet projections for the full fiscal year.

Hastings did acknowledge the second quarter has historically been rough for Netflix, noting another underperformance in 2016. “We never did find the explanation [for that],” he said.

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Though Netflix lowered guidance on global subscriber growth from six million to five million for the upcoming third quarter, executives said they believed new shows will still help the company reach the larger goal of as much as doubling subscribers in the next several years. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, noted the 40 shows that fueled the company’s industry-best 112 Emmy nominations last week and also said that new creators will continue to populate that pipeline.

Fresh shows from uber-producers Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, signed to lucrative deals within the past year, would soon be reaching development and production stages, he said.

Rhimes and her staff recently moved their offices to Netflix, Sarandos noted.

Executives downplayed the digital emergence of Disney and other rivals.

“There’s a lot of new and strengthening competition with Disney entering the market and HBO getting additional funding,” Hastings said. “That’s all normal. We’re not going to change that. Our focus is on doing the best content we’ve ever done."