Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why Netflix Customers Who Haven’t Bailed Probably Won’t

Netflix screwed up so badly this summer and fall that some of its subscribers left in a huff. So how do the ones who stuck around feel?

They’re less happy than they used to be. But they don’t seem to be going anywhere.

That’s the cautiously optimistic conclusion of a new survey Citigroup commissioned over the past few months. It finds existing subscribers still fairly pleased with the service Reed Hastings is offering: 57 percent say they’re either “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied.” But Hastings’ good will has certainly eroded a bit: In May, a similar survey found 50 percent of his customers in the “extremely satisfied” category. That number is now down to 18 percent.

As Citi analyst Mark Mahaney points out, the survey is a bit skewed, since Netflix subscribers who were most disappointed with the service’s changes — a price hike, an ill-fated attempt to spin off its DVD business into a separate unit, and the loss of programming deal that gives the company access to Sony and Disney movies — have already bailed.

But a different survey question suggests one reason customers are sticking around with Netflix: They don’t see many other options.

While Amazon has been building up its catalog of streaming video, only 9 percent of Netflix customers said they’ve watched movies or TV shows there. And while 15 percent said they’ve used Hulu, that number is down from 19 percent in May. Apple’s iTunes comes in at 8 percent. (Perhaps the reason only 27 percent of Netflix subscribers say they use Netflix is because they’re distinguishing between apps and the site. But that seems like a fairly precise distinction for a large number of people to make, so who knows.)

The very big picture is that Mahaney still assumes Netflix will keep growing. He figures its DVD-only subscribers will drop by 800,000, to 9.9 million, over the next year. But he thinks streaming subscribers will increase 9.9 million, to 30.9 million, and that the company will add a few million more as it expands in Latin America and the U.K. He also thinks Netflix will become profitable again by the end of 2012.

But none of that is going to help anyone who bought Netflix stock earlier this year, when shares had climbed as high as $300. Mahaney has lowered his price target for NFLX, and is now hoping it climbs back to $80.


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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle