Peter Kafka

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Netflix Delivers: Revenue on Target, Earnings Way Above, Guidance Increased

netflix-on-demandNetflix has been one of the rare winners during the recession/depression: Customers are flocking to the movie rental service, even while competitor Blockbuster (BBI) struggles, and investors love the stock. The company turned in a gangbusters performance at the end of last year, and expectations were very high for today’s Q1 earnings report.

At first glance, it looks like the company beat them. Netflix (NFLX) posted earnings of 37 cents a share on revenue of $394.1 million. Wall Street had been looking for 31 cents and $390 million, respectively. The company said it ended the quarter with 10.3 million subscribers, which is the high end of the range it had promised to deliver.

And guidance was strong, too. From the company’s press release, here are Q2 predictions:

– Ending subscribers of 10.4 million to 10.6 million
– Revenue of $403 million to $409 million
– GAAP net income of $27 million to $32 million
– GAAP EPS of 44 cents to 53 cents per diluted share

And here’s the company’s revised guidance for 2009 (full year), which it increased:

– Ending subscribers of 11.2 million to 11.8 million, up from 10.6 million to 11.3 million
– Revenue of $1.63 billion to $1.67 billion, up from $1.58 billion to $1.635 billion
– GAAP net income of $96 million to $106 million, up from $88 million to $98 million
– GAAP EPS of $1.56 to $1.72 per diluted share, up from $1.43 to $1.59 per diluted share.

All of this seems to compare favorably with Wall Street’s expectations. Via Citibank’s Mark Mahaney, here’s what investors were looking for (click to enlarge):

netflix-cheat-sheet

Netflix shares have been bouncing around in the aftermarket following the earnings release, and last I looked, they’re just about flat. It will probably take investors a while to figure out if they’re disappointed that the numbers aren’t even bigger.

UPDATE: The stock is now down around 5%, presumably because guidance wasn’t strong enough. I’m back for the earnings call, which I’ll live blog part of: I’m particularly interested in Netflix’s digital strategy, so I’ll be focusing on that.

CEO Reed Hastings: Subscribers renting more DVDs and Blu-rays than ever. Disc rental will continue to grow for many years, so we’re investing in that.

More realistic Blu-ray pricing (previously discussed) of 20% to 25% premium for subs. Though we’re paying the studios a higher premium for Blu-ray. If we can get those costs in line, we can promote Blu-ray more agresssively [i.e. bring down your prices, Hollywood, and we'll push more of your high-margin discs].

We are losing customer to $1 kiosk rentals. “By end of they year, kiosks will likely be our #1 competitor,” as rental stores fail. “Longterm effects,” of cheap kiosks “are not positive for us, or the industry as a whole.”

Streaming: Overall consumer embrace of online video growing. “Not hard to believe that online video will grow substantially every year for a long time”. [Duh]. Important for us to be spending “aggressively” on streaming content. “But that means we are essentially buying many titles twice now”. Buying once on DVD, and again on streaming. Great for content owners, ok for us since costs for streaming are lower than physical distribution.

We believe we’ll get more streaming licenses as TV networks, who control titles, look to increase distribution. We are looking to a day, when we have plentiful content for streaming… “we will simply be a fourth option for consumers and a fourth revenue source for networks and studios”. It’s possible that within a few years, all CE devices sold will include a Netflix component.

It’s easy to focus on the Internet for its distribution abilities, but its important to think about social possibilities. Future of Internet TV is closer to Facebook and social networks than the standard grid lineup. Social, social, social. Long term outlook for Internet TV is very promising.

[Join to pass on most of CFO notes] No “cocooning” effect from recession apparent in DVD usage. Acquisition costs “record low” in part because of depressed online ad pricing.

Q&A: “Tremendous amounts” of hardware partnerships in the pipeline. Xbox renewal? No answer.

Have sub growth slowed at end of quarter? No. Q4 growth back-end loaded because of holidays, and Q1 growth front-end loaded for same reason.

How about a fee-based service for a streaming only service by year’s end? We talk about that from time to time, but not pressing. For now, combination of DVD rental and streaming is what consumers are interested in. A streaming-only service would be a “sweetner” to what we have now. We don’t think it would cannibalize, though.

Can you talk about streaming-enabled devices’ contribution to subscriber additions? No details, but we think it’s helpful to have Xbox, Blu-ray players, etc. “It’s definitely a very positive part of the ecosystem for us”.

What are dynamics to adding more content to streaming library? More money.

Can you talk more about new marketing efficiencies? There aren’t any new ones, really. Weak economy, lower ad prices, plus consumer excitement about streaming product.

What does competition look like on streaming front from Apple and Amazon? Right now, “all three of us are three drops of water in the pool that is watching television”, … “we all recognize in the long-term there will be competition between us” but we’re all “so tiny” compared to TV-viewing that that’s what we’re focused on.

That appears to be it for streaming-related queries. I’ll check back in with the full transcript later on.


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