After a disastrous 2011 and expected sour start to 2012, the company appears to have found a content strategy that can deliver value not only to consumers, but media programmers.
In late July, with the stock priced around where it is now, I made my moderately bullish case in Prepare to Buy Netflix Before It Rises From the Dead.
The keyword there: Prepare.Headwinds still exist. Monday's 6% decline on reports that Netflix might lose programming from A&E and History Channel proves that point. Short-term noise tends to get in the way of the more important long-term story. Inversely, in early-to-mid-2011, Netflix touted its growing subscriber count. This bullish noise smokescreened what really mattered -- the underlying bearish themes of out-of-control content costs and old guard media entities calling the shots. While things do look better at Netflix now, both problems still provide pressure. Reed Hastings must further address them. First, he needs to do something about the $5 billion in off-balance sheet obligations (just call it "debt"), Netflix owes over the next five years. I understand how Netflix books these costs over time, however, as a show of fiscal sense, the company should make adjustments to ensure investors and make that big number look less ominous. Structure your content deals differently. Set aside a pot of money to match some of the due dates for those obligations. If Netflix operated from a position of strength, cash-wise, the debt would be less of a concern. Second, increase spending to secure reruns of shows such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Louie C.K.. Push the angle that Netflix can be a partner with cable. As I explain in the above-cited article, it has already accomplished that with AMC Networks (AMCX). There's another problem here, though. It's theme number three, but it's been around as long as and is equally as important as themes one and two. As long as Netflix charges consumers $8 a month, it will have a difficult time collecting premium content. Starz ended its relationship with Netflix for this reason. Simply put, at $8 a month, Starz felt like Netflix devalued its content.
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