NEW YORK (TheStreet) – With 50.1 million total subscribers at the end of its third quarter, Internet movie streaming giant Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report has already become a disruptive force among television viewers. Its growth has only just begun, as the company expands internationally and more cable subscribers cut the cord and switch to streaming services.
Analysts are bullish on Netflix's growth prospects. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company has forced the hands of cable powerhouses like Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report and Time Warner (TWX) , prompting both companies to rethink their business models. Both companies last year agreed to merge partly because of Netflix and the success of other over-the-internet services like Hulu and Apple's (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report iTunes. These a la carte services are giving consumers reasons to cut their cable cords.
Seven years after Netflix introduced its online streaming service, 55% of U.S. broadband households subscribe to a streaming TV service like Netflix, according to industry reporting firm Parks Associates, and the trend has only just begun.
Analysts still expect Netflix to grow earnings at a 40% annual rate over the next five years. The stock has an average 12-month price target of $390, suggesting 15.6% gains from current levels.
Netflix's success has prompted other companies to start streaming services, such as Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report Prime. Even HBO and Showtime, two cable premium channels, are planning to launch their own stand-alone services to better compete with Netflix, affirming the strength of Netflix's business model. It also means more competition.
With the company due to report fourth-quarter results and full-year results ended Dec. 31 on Tuesday, investors are eager to learn the extent to which Netflix has grown its both its domestic and international subscribers -- important metrics that are likely to move the stock in either direction.
Netflix stock closed Friday at $337.34, up 4.19%. Its shares are down 1.25% on the year to date, compared with declines of 1.75% and 1.92% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and in the S&P 500 (SPX) , respectively. But the stock has suffered since its October quarter, and its shares are down 24% in the last six months.
That's partly because Netflix's third-quarter U.S. subscribers showed signs of deceleration amid growing competition and market saturation.
Netflix guided for fourth-quarter net additions of 4 million subscribers, with 1.85 million coming from the U.S. and 2.15 million from abroad. If Netflix meets its fourth-quarter outlook after disappointing last quarter, the stock should head higher.
On Tuesday, analysts expect Netflix to deliver 45 cents a share in earnings on revenue of $1.48 billion, representing 43% year-over-year decline in earnings and 26% year-over-year growth in revenue. For the full year, earnings are expected to be $3.42 per share, up 85% year over year, while full-year revenue is projected to be $5.5 billion, up 26% year over year.
With both full-year revenue and profits growing at 26% and 85% year over year, Netflix, whose stock is up 562% in the last five years, has shown it knows how to make money for investors. And on Tuesday the company results will set the tone for how it will continue to do that in 2015.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held a position in Apple.