Netflix reported decent but not spectacular earnings on Thursday, revealing it had performed better with subscribers than it did on the revenue front in the fourth quarter.
The company added 8.8 million subscribers, slightly higher than many analyst estimates of about 8 million. Of that number, 7.3 million of new subs were international, nearly a million more than many had forecast. Domestic subscriber additions of 1.5 million were in line with estimates.
The company’s revenue, however, was slightly below analyst expectations, coming in at $4.19 billion compared to consensus projections of $4.21 billion.
The stock dropped 4 percent in after-hours trading, though the share price has been more up more than 25 percent so far in 2019.
That 2019 climb in stock value is partly attributable to a price hike. On Tuesday the company said it was raising prices between 13 percent and 18 percent, to pay for higher content costs, prompting a buying flurry. Many Wall Street analysts embraced the price move, saying they thought it would increase Netflix revenue without causing a slowdown in subscriber additions.
The company has been paying a premium for content, regularly making talent deals and acquisitions above market value, and executives have warned that a lot of those costs were weighted in the last six months of the year. Netflix has also been spending heavily on marketing for its fourth-quarter award-season movies, particularly its Oscar hopeful “Roma.”
Netflix has had to steel itself for a future in which Disney and other conglomerates pull content off Netflix to sell it directly, a development that could drive away Netflix subscribers. This has prompted the ramp-up in original content.
“As a result of our success with original programming, we’re becoming less focused on 2nd-run programming,” the company said in its earnings letter.
The company is also up against entertainment of all kinds. In the letter it noted that “there are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers.” And then, with perhaps a slight sense of intra-Hollywood trash-talkiness, added that “we compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO," referring to the popular online game.
The letter also touted the relatively recent push into unscripted television, including the social-media hit ”Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” as fueling that push. It cited “13 Reasons Why,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things” as well as new movies from Martin Scorsese and J.C. Chandor as among its scripted content offerings in 2019 that will keep attracting subscribers.
The company continued to tease the success of “Bird Box,” the Susanne Bier horror movie starring Sandra Bullock, with rare viewership numbers. After earlier saying that 45 million accounts started the December release in the first seven days of its availability, Netflix said Thursday that it estimates that in the first four weeks of availability the movie was “enjoyed by over 80 million member households,” which means at least half of all global Netflix subscribers at least started watching it. It did not offer numbers on “Roma” or other fall film releases including white-supremacy thriller “22 July” and fertility dramedy “Private Life.”
All of this content is meant to increase subscribers, which is the metric Wall Street most cares about because their fees form the streamer’s only significant revenue stream.
Overseas subscribers have been growing a lot faster than domestic. The latter now hover at about 60 million, while international subscribers number around 80 million.
For the first quarter, Netflix projected a global subscriber add of 8.9 million, slightly ahead of analyst forecasts of 8.5 million.