Editors' pick: Originally published July 28.
Shares of the popular streaming platform fell 14% on July 19 following an earnings report that revealed the company had missed international subscriber growth targets by nearly half a million and domestic subscriber growth by about 400,000. Although shares have somewhat recovered, Netflix is beginning to show signs of weakness that few would have predicted during its meteoric rise since going public in 2002.
The problem could be that Netflix's user base of about 83 million is nearing saturation. While investors fear that nearly all the U.S. households that would consider subscribing to Netflix have already done so, others argue that its content is lacking and that it's no longer the only go-to source for compelling entertainment.
"Netflix isn't providing sufficient content to satisfy long-time subscribers, and the alternatives are providing some measure of new content that is attractive," Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter, who rates the shares "underperform," said in an e-mail.
In recent years, CEO Reed Hastings has invested in making films but so far that strategy has yet to hit a payday. As any of the major Hollywood studios knows too well, movie-making is a risky business. The company's first film, Beasts of No Nation, missed at the Oscars even though it was supposed to be a large awards-season play. Netflix's four-picture deal with Adam Sandler has produced two films that were both critically panned, failing to entice more subscribers.
And, though not as aggressively publicized as Beasts, Netflix has released three movies over the past month: Paul Rudd in The Fundamentals of Caring, anIndian comedy Brahman Naman and the mind-bending thriller Rebirth. These films have generated close to zero buzz, and are also unlikely to raise the number of Netflix subscribers.
"If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it..." says ComScore (SCOR) - Get Report box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You can't just count on being flypaper waiting for the viewers to come to you. The most important thing is that you market these projects in a way that inspires people to join Netflix."
Indeed, if Netflix hopes to remain the top dog among streaming operators, it needs to make consumers aware that its programming is must-see. Luckily, Netflix has many projects in the pipeline that, if leveraged correctly, will affirm Netflix's reputation as the best provider of original premium content. This mix of original movies and series will be essential in firming up Netflix's subscriber base and expanding it at a quicker pace.