Netflix Reportedly Eyeing Content Budget Restraint

With Netflix’s fiscal second-quarter ended June 30, the SVOD pioneer reportedly is re-evaluating its prolific content spending.

The service, which ended Q1 with $18.9 billion in third-party content obligations, spent more than $12 billion on original content in 2018 — a fiscal largess senior management is now scrutinizing.

CCO Ted Sarandos in June reportedly held a meeting with mid-level managers with a revised mandate that spending on original content should be commensurate with viewership — especially among new subscribers and long-time inactive members, according to The Information, which cited people at the meeting.

Netflix heretofore has eschewed spending restraint in favor of content’s social media buzz and establishing industry legitimacy.

“They are the leading game in town and were probably overspending relative to what they need,” analyst Michael Nathanson with MoffettNathanson told the website. “Now that they are in a strong position, they probably want to allocate more of that spending overseas.”

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The service in recent years has blown up industry norms outspending/bidding over-the-top competitors and traditional pay-TV players for content and exclusive license agreements.

With domestic sub growth maturing and a bevy of pending OTT video services launching from deep-pocket competitors such as Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia and NBC Universal, among others, Netflix now wants original programming to pay for itself — a challenge for a business model that shuns advertising, the theatrical window and transactional VOD.

Sarandos, according to The Information, was at odds with the reported $115 million spent on Triple Frontier, the original action movie with Ben Affleck and Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) that apparently didn’t resonate with subscribers — or the service’s bottom line.

In fiscal 2018, Netflix generated negative cash flow of $3 billion on revenue of $16 billion — a figure projected to increase to $3.5 billion in fiscal 2019 — much of it due to content spending.

“There’s been no change to our content budgets, nor any big shifts in the sorts of projects we’re investing in, or the way we greenlight them,” said a Netflix spokesperson.

Meanwhile, pending original movie The Irishman, from director Martin Scorsese has a reported budget of $150 million. With Netflix eyeing the mob thriller for next year’s industry awards, the service will have to compromise on its concurrent theatrical/streaming release mandate, says Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“We expect Netflix and exhibitors to reach an accommodation where there will be a shortened window in exchange for lower film rent,” Pachter wrote in a July 1 note.

A typical film earns 83% of its box office within four weeks, and 96% within 60 days, which Pachter believes could soften exhibitors’ revenue loss to around 3% as the result of a shortened theatrical window to appease Netflix’s business model.

“We think that if studios or platforms like Netflix are willing to trade film rent for an earlier window, the negative impact on exhibition would be limited particularly for films well-suited for the big screen,” Pachter wrote. “The Irishman may fit the bill.”

Netflix reports Q2 fiscal results July 17.