Apr 22, 2021 (IAM Newswire via COMTEX) -- Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +0.86% shares fell as much as 11% in after-hours trading after the streaming giant reported a large miss in subscriber numbers in its first-quarter earnings report. The facts that revenue still grew on a YoY basis along with a strong beat on earnings were not enough to offset the weak number of subscriber additions, especially as management only expects 1 million new subscribers in the undergoing quarter.
First quarter figures
Revenue amounted to $7.16 billion, slightly topping $7.13 billion expected, resulting in earnings per share of $3.75 that exceed the expected $2.97, as gathered by Refinitiv. Global paid net subscriber additions came at 3.98 million which is significantly below the 6.2 million expected, according to FactSet. This figure seems even more pessimistic compared to a quarterly record of 15.8 million new paying users it gathered during the first three months of 2020.
Still, the company's revenue grew 24% YoY and was in line with its beginning of quarter forecast. Netflix also delivered a strong beat on earnings compared to Street estimates. Operating income for the quarter came in at $1.96 billion which is more than double $958 million in the year-earlier period. Moreover, as content spending was lower, it resulted in a 27% operating margin which is an all-time high for the first quarter.
Netflix is losing subscribers
Netflix believes that the shortfall subscriber numbers could be blamed on the ongoing pandemic or more precisely on its smaller pipeline of originals as COVID-19 restrictions forced the company to delay some of its big-name shows and films. It doesn't believe that competition from Walt Disney Company's /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +1.68% Disney+ and Hulu, AT&T's /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -0.77% HBO Max, Apple's /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.53% Apple TV+ , Amazon's /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.45% Prime video and Comcast Corporation's /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +1.98% NBCUniversal's Peacock played a factor in the weak subscriber numbers. But the reality is that Netflix is facing an increasing set of competitors in the streaming space with HBO Max having reached 41 million U.S. subscribers two years ahead of schedule in January this year and Disney+ topping 100 million global subscribers as of early March, ballooning to about half of Netflix’s 208 million worldwide subscribers only within a year-and-a-half of its launch.
The key is the business remains healthy and that it keeps growing
To respond its competitors, Netflix expects to spend more than $17 billion in cash on content this year. Production is up and running in nearly all of its major markets and While ramping up content spending more than 44% compared with $11.8 billion last year, Netflix is also trying to combat password sharing. Historically, it wasn't concerned about this issue as subscriber growth and stock price were easily offsetting concerns around lost revenue. But, things changed as Netflix has found itself amid intense 'streaming wars'.
Netflix's board approved a buyback program to repurchase up to $5 billion in common stock, beginning in 2021 with no fixed expiration date. The program is expected to begin during the quarter.
The winner of the streaming wars is still unknown
While Netflix matures in terms of subscriber growth, its business has also become increasingly efficient from an operating standpoint, despite channeling billions into content creation. After posting its first full-year of positive free cash flow since 2011 last year, it believes it is “very close to being sustainably” free cash flow positive. As for 2021, it expects free cash flow to be around breakeven while no longer having to raise external financing for its day-to-day operations. In other words, it's been more than a year that streaming wars intensified and all players are investing heavily to be on the winning side even after the world successfully combats COVID-19.
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