Is Netflix’s Pandemic Boom Over? Analysts, and Even the Streamer Itself, Think So

NEWS ANALYSIS — Heading into Netflix’s first-quarter fiscal results on April 20, market speculation regarding the streamer’s subscriber growth dominates.

Following a year, 2020, in which Netflix added a record 37 million subs, conventional wisdom suggests the SVOD pioneer can’t replicate, much less exceed, last year’s Q1 sub increase of 16 million subs.

London-based Ampere Analysis and Los Angeles-based analyst Michael Pachter contend Netflix added 6 million subs worldwide through March 31 — the lowest sub gain in four years. Of course, that’s playing it safe, considering Netflix itself has projected the same conservative sub growth.

That’s a smart move, since Netflix short-sellers typically salivate ahead of earnings, hoping for bad news — only to be dashed at the gallows when positive results come out.

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“It is not quite the end of the pandemic effect for streaming services, but we are beginning to see the tail end of it; it’s definitely on the wane,” Richard Broughton, analyst at Ampere, told The Guardian. “If Netflix’s numbers do come in as predicted, they will be the lowest for a good few years.”

Netflix ended 2020 with slightly more than 203 million subscribers and expects to end the first quarter of 2021 with 209.6 million subs. The service added 41% of subs from Europe and the Middle East.

“We’re becoming an increasingly global service, with 83% of our paid net adds in 2020 coming from outside the [North America] region,” co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos wrote in the company’s Q4 shareholder letter. “The quarterly guidance we provide is our actual internal forecast at the time we report and we strive for accuracy.”

Pachter says Netflix has executed “extremely well” during the pandemic by keeping its “foot on the gas pedal” for subscriber growth, while benefiting from a disruption in content production that allowed it to generate — for the first time — positive free cash flow.

“While we are far more constructive about Netflix than we have been at any point in nearly a decade, we continue to question its [market] valuation,” the analyst wrote in a note.

Netflix continues to successfully fend off growing competition from Disney+; increased content spending from Amazon Prime Video; and pending European launches of HBO Max and Paramount+. As warmer weather arrives around the world and pandemic restrictions on social gatherings ease due to vaccinations, the number of consumers interested in binge-viewing the latest U.K. serial drama might wane.

“Netflix went into the pandemic as the strongest service, and although there has been the arrival of very successful new entrants such as Disney+, it is [still] in an extremely strong position now,” Broughton said.

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