For years it seemed like legacy media just couldn’t get it together to compete with upstart Netflix. Now, that time may be over. Anna Nicolaou reports in The Financial Times:
Heavy is the head that wears The Crown.
Once a scrappy upstart of the TV industry, Netflix has become the king of streaming with 208m subscribers — nearly half of the world’s total excluding China.
But the latest round of quarterly results from media companies, which concluded on Thursday night with figures from Disney, has shown that the disrupter is now firmly in the role of defensive incumbent.
Three of the old media groups that Netflix sought to dethrone — Disney, HBO and ViacomCBS — all grew their streaming services more quickly in the first three months of this year, fuelling investors’ fears that Netflix must keep pouring billions into new shows to entice viewers or risk losing its momentum.
“Netflix isn’t just in the game, it had a hand inventing it. But prospering is different to plodding, so the rest of this year is crucial,” warned Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Performance in the pandemic was impressive, but anyone can make hay while the sun shines”.
‘No real change we can detect’
Netflix added fewer than 4m subscribers globally in the first three months of the year, badly missing its own forecasts. Only 450,000 people signed up in the US and Canada, its biggest market.
Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder, largely brushed off the threat from rivals after reporting those figures last month, telling investors: “There’s no real change that we can detect in the competitive environment.”
But Disney Plus lured 9m subscribers in the quarter and ViacomCBS added 6m, while HBO signed up nearly 3m US subscribers to its Max streaming service.
In the past year and a half, Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia, Comcast and others have launched new streaming platforms. There are now more than 100 streaming services to choose from, according to data company Ampere, with a dizzying number of niche products such as Shudder, which is dedicated to horror, or Horse & Country, which streams horse races.
Unlike cable television, which often locked customers into sticky pay packages, Netflix subscriptions can be cancelled with a few taps of a keyboard, making it easier for people to switch among services depending on what they want to watch.
Netflix shares have lost 10 per cent this year, missing out on a broader rally in the stock market.
Some of this is explained as a pause after a striking rally in its shares in recent years, when the company reached new subscriber heights and investors were willing to pay increasingly high prices for a piece of its future growth.
But there are also signals that Netflix, founded in 1997, is transitioning to a more mature stage.
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