Why AT&T bought Time Warner and Comcast and Disney want Fox

The long-term bull case for Netflix is that its subscriber growth, coupled with incremental price increases, will eventually propel earnings and cash flow.

BTIG’s Greenfield predicts Netflix will increase its global subscribers from 125 million to 200 million by 2020. Bank of America analyst Nat Schindler estimates Netflix will have 360 million subscribers by 2030. Netflix estimates the total addressable market of subscribers, not including China, could be about 800 million.

Meanwhile, the number of traditional cable and satellite pay-TV households falls each year, and the declines are accelerating. Research firm Statista predicts there will be 95 million U.S. pay-TV households by 2020, down from 100 million in 2015.

The bigger Netflix gets, the more A+ talent will want to sign exclusive deals with Netflix instead of traditional media companies. It’s a virtuous cycle, as top talent then accelerates subscriber growth. It’s also a death spiral for the weakest traditional media players.

Netflix has another edge in the content wars. While networks make decisions on TV ratings, Netflix plays a different game. Its barometer for success is based on how much it spent on a show rather than hoping every show is a blowout hit, said Barry Enderwick, who worked in Netflix’s marketing department from 2001 to 2012 and who was director of global marketing and subscriber acquisition. Since Netflix is not beholden to advertisers, niche shows can be successful, as long as Netflix controls spending. That also gives Netflix the luxury of being able to order full seasons of shows, which appeals to talent.

“If you’re a typical studio, you raise money for a pilot, and if it tests well, you pick up the show, maybe you make a few more episodes, and you wait for the ratings,” said Enderwick.

“At Netflix, our data made our decisions for us, so we’d just order two seasons. Show creators would ask us, ‘do you want to see notes? Don’t you want to see a pilot?’ We’d respond, ‘If you want us to.’ Creators were gobsmacked.”

That dynamic has led some content makers to decide they’re better off working directly for Netflix, which now spends more on content than many TV networks.

Last year, Netflix signed Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” to a multiyear contract after more than a decade at ABC Studios. Earlier this year, Netflix signed a deal with Ryan Murphy, creator of “Nip/Tuck,” “American Horror Story” and “Glee,” to a deal that could reach $300 million, according to Deadline Hollywood. He left Fox TV for the Netflix offer and spurned a counteroffer from Disney. And Jenji Kohan, who created “Orange is The New Black” for Lionsgate? She left for Netflix, too.

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