Film/TV studio Lions Gate's (LGF) $4.4 billion deal to acquire premium TV network owner Starz (STRZA) involves a Netflix(NFLX) - Get Report content partner buying an aspiring Netflix rival. Naturally, there are worries about whether the tie-up will result in tougher competition for the streaming giant.
But while Netflix probably isn't thrilled to see this deal occur, it shouldn't be too concerned about it for the time being.
The deal will likely result in Lions Gate, which produces Orange is the New Black and also licenses Mad Men and other content to Netflix, using its content to strengthen Starz's recently-launched streaming service. And it could also result in Starz using its substantial library to help Lions Gate, which controls the Hunger Games franchise, launch new streaming offerings.
Between them, the companies claim a 16,000-title film and TV library, and 87 original series airing on 42 U.S. TV networks.
But to date, only Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report, Hulu and to a lesser extent, Time Warner's (TWX) HBO, have made headway directly competing against Netflix, and each has done so by providing a unique selling point. Amazon, in addition to spending heavily on content, has bundled its streaming service and other offerings with its Prime delivery service. Hulu has catered to TV aficionados by providing an unmatched TV show library, and allowing many shows to be watched shortly after airing.
HBO, meanwhile, has pitched consumers on exclusive access to hit series. Lions Gate and Starz could differentiate their streaming offerings along similar lines, but their exclusive material is unlikely to have the same pull as an HBO lineup headlined by Game of Thrones. Moreover, like other studios, Lions Gate has relied on distribution deals with numerous old-media and new-media firms, and this is unlikely to change following the Starz acquisition.
Meanwhile, Netflix remains quite dominant. The company had 81.5 million streaming subscribers -- 47 million in the U.S. -- as of the end of the first quarter. Hulu, by comparison, is at 12 million subscribers, and the HBO Now standalone streaming service had a modest 800,000 subs at the end of 2015 (HBO does also have an estimated 36 million U.S. TV subscribers, however, to whom it gives access to its HBO Go streaming service).
Telecom equipment firm Sandvine estimates Netflix accounts for 35.2% of downstream U.S. Internet traffic during peak hours. That compares with 4.3% for Amazon and 2.7% for Hulu. Netflix has clearly become deeply ingrained within the lives of a large portion of its subscriber base, much of which (from all indications) is also subscribed to Amazon Prime and/or HBO.
Also, at around $10/month, Netflix remains immune to being severely undercut on price, and with $12.3 billion worth of streaming content obligations at the end of the first quarter, the company's budget remains unmatched. Netflix may also be unmatched in its ability to use subscriber streaming data to personalize recommendations and figure out exactly what content is worth financing and licensing.
If Netflix has a vulnerability, it might lie in the shrinking of the company's film and TV library in recent years, as the company directs more of its budget towards original content and hit movies/shows. That could provide an opening for services catering to various niche audiences.
Lions Gate has already dabbled in this area, for example, announcing a comedy-only streaming service with Kevin Hart and reportedly talking with Comic-Con about a streaming service for geeks, and Starz should strengthen its hand.
Netflix's library size has been shrinking. Source: AllFlicks.
But potentially losing some niche programming fans wouldn't be the same as Netflix facing large-scale subscriber loss due to the emergence of a service that can fully match its library and resources. For now, it doesn't look like any such service is on the horizon.