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Oct. 18, 2021, 8:37 a.m. EDT

Can ‘Squid Game’ and videogames be game-changers for Netflix?

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By Jon Swartz

A year ago, Netflix Inc. investors were losing sleep over a raft of competition and a cooling of net subscriber growth following a torrid spurt of new subscriptions from homebound consumers.

Now, sleep is coming easier for those with a piece of Netflix, and their dreams are about “Squid Game” and videogames.

“Squid Game,” a dystopian drama set in South Korea that examines how the global wealth gap is widening, could play an outsize role when Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -0.21% reports fiscal third-quarter results on Tuesday. The Korean drama series has attracted 111 million viewers world-wide since its Sept. 17 debut, blowing past the previous record of 82 million people who watched “Bridgerton,” according to Netflix. 

Like most Netflix analysts, Jefferies analyst Andrew Uerkwitz is keen on “Squid Game,” and its ability to both attract new subscribers and demonstrate the company’s capacity to produce compelling content. The reopening of production schedules and premieres of original content is clearly a godsend for Netflix , which reported a dramatic slowdown in new subscribers at this time last year amid a paucity of fresh programming and lagging subscriber growth after a turbocharged COVID bounce.

In-depth: Your streaming subscriptions reshaped Disney and turbocharged Netflix — now comes making more money off you

Netflix stock bogged down after that report for about nine months. But it has picked up in the past three months, gaining 15.7% in that time — for the past year, shares are up 15.9%, showing how much the recent excitement has changed the trajectory.

Things could get even better in the current quarter, with the return of four of Netflix’s most popular series, including “Bridgerton” and “The Witcher,” and the growing popularity of “Squid Game,” which is must-see viewing in nearly 100 countries. Evercore ISI analyst Mark Mahaney is looking at fourth-quarter subscriber-growth guidance of between 8 million and 9 million net additions.

It’s enough to assuage investors eyeing a marauding lineup of media competition from Walt Disney Co. /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +3.55% , Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -0.61% , Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.18% , Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +3.69% , and others.

But the game-changer — literally — could still be in the future. In July, Netflix announced its first major videogame hire as it attempts to move beyond its streaming-video roots and diversify revenue. Mike Verdu was named vice president of game development, following stints at Facebook Inc.  FB and Electronic Arts Inc.  EA , where he was responsible for game franchises like “The Sims,” “Plants vs. Zombies” and “Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.”

For more: Netflix lays out mobile games plan that could set a collision course with Apple

Uerkwitz, who lifted his price target to $737 from $620 this week and has a buy rating on the stock, is bullish on Netflix’s recent acquisition of developer Night School Studio , and believes Netflix can fetch a higher multiple as its videogaming push crystallizes.

Not all is hunky dory with Netflix, though. A transgender-employee group at the company is encouraging staff to stage a walkout next Wednesday to protest co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos’s recent defense of Dave Chappelle’s special that some employees said was offensive to the transgender community. Expect Sarandos and co-CEO Reed Hastings to address that, as well as coming content and videogame plans, when they speak to investors on Tuesday.

What to expect

Earnings:  Analysts on average expect Netflix to report earnings of $2.57 a share, up from $1.74 a share a year ago. Analysts were projecting $2.20 a share at the end of June. Netflix forecast earnings of $2.55 a share, and 3.5 million net subscriber adds. The street consensus projects 3.8 million net adds.

Contributors to Estimize — a crowdsourcing platform that gathers estimates from Wall Street analysts as well as buy-side analysts, fund managers, company executives, academics and others — are just as optimistic, projecting earnings of $2.72a share on average.

Revenue:  Analysts on average expect Netflix to report $7.48 billion in third-quarter revenue, up from $6.44 billion a year ago. Netflix guided for revenue of $7.48 billion, and Estimize contributors predict $7.54 billion on average.

Stock movement:  Netflix’s stock is up 15.9% so far this year, while the S&P 500 index  /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.42% has increased 16%. Shares of Netflix are up 15% since the company announced second-quarter results on July 20.

What analysts are saying

Netflix’s fourth-quarter subscriber forecast could be the biggest detail to watch, with all the content landing in the second half of the year. Stifel’s Scott Devitt is expecting blockbuster fourth-quarter net additions of 10.1 million subscribers, leapfrogging street estimates of about 8.4 million, as Netflix “successfully releases compelling original content, broadens its international penetration, and enters a seasonally favorable period for sub adds.”

“We believe Netflix has entered a favorable setup following the sub add pull-forward-induced trough,” Devitt said in an Oct. 11 that rated Netflix shares as buy with a target of $650.

Read: YouTube is as big as Netflix, and growing much faster

Baird analyst William Power anticipates subscriber growth, leading to solid results and guidance, based on Google search data and app download activity late in the quarter.

“We had expected a stronger second-half content slate to benefit subscriber growth, which we believe is playing out,” said Power, who issued an outperform rating and raised his target to $680 from $650. “We remain positive on the long-term position, though with strong stock performance since Q2 and the ‘Squid Game’ release, [we] would be more aggressive on any weakness.”

Noting a 7% increase in sequential quarterly downloads, Truist Securities analyst Matthew Thornton raised his target on Netflix’s stock to $690 from $600 and maintained a buy rating.

“The content slate is strong (Witcher, La Casa De Papel, Cobra Kai, Tiger King, You, Emily In Paris, several star-studded films),” he wrote in an Oct. 12 note.

“Acquisitions, Gaming, ‘Squid Game’ and Emmy Domination” are the winning formula that Monness Crespi Hardt analyst Brian J. White cited in an Oct. 15 note that predicts Netflix will achieve third-quarter revenue of at least $7.47 billion (up 16% year-over-year) and earnings of $2.51. His Netflix target is $650.

/zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 616.47
-1.30 -0.21%
Volume: 3.33M
Dec. 2, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
55.56
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$273.64 billion
Rev. per Employee
$2.66M
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 147.20
+5.05 +3.55%
Volume: 18.18M
Dec. 2, 2021 4:02p
P/E Ratio
134.98
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$258.38 billion
Rev. per Employee
$354,668
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 163.76
-1.01 -0.61%
Volume: 136.74M
Dec. 2, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
29.21
Dividend Yield
0.54%
Market Cap
$2703.28 billion
Rev. per Employee
$2.38M
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 3,437.36
-6.36 -0.18%
Volume: 3.24M
Dec. 2, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
67.21
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1746.47 billion
Rev. per Employee
$297,430
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 23.05
+0.82 +3.69%
Volume: 80.02M
Dec. 2, 2021 4:02p
P/E Ratio
189.71
Dividend Yield
9.02%
Market Cap
$158.74 billion
Rev. per Employee
$746,783
loading...
/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
4,577.10
+64.06 +1.42%
Volume: 2.80B
Dec. 2, 2021 5:08p
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