In the rollercoaster COVID-19 era, few media companies have shined as brightly as Netflix. The SVOD pioneer has defied odds and naysayers, adding more subscribers (26 million) in the first six months of the year than it did in all of 2019. It ended June with 193 million subs worldwide.
As the third quarter closes on Sept. 30, the SVOD pioneer is facing challenges, not the least of which is a probable near-term subscription price hike. Netflix hasn’t raised its domestic fee since May 2019 when the most-popular plan increased $2 to $13 monthly.
“After a change in language regarding pricing on the [Q2] call, we believe a potential hike is probable in the near to midterm,” Alex Giaimo, analyst at Jeffries, wrote in a note. “In Q1, Netflix said that they were ‘not even thinking about price increases,’ while the Q2 language was more open-ended.”
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Jeffries contends price hikes from $1 to $2 monthly in North America and Europe could see Netflix add near $1 billion in fiscal 2021 revenue. A similar price hike in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) could add $700 million.
“We have confidence that Netflix can raise prices in international markets, given its deepening content library and outsized consumer value proposition,” Giaimo wrote.
On the domestic front, Netflix is facing blowback from politicians and public action committees regarding a small French movie, Cuties, critics say exploits young girls. The streamer also received a letter from GOP senators questioning its motives behind greenlighting an original series based on a book by a Chinese author accused of being pro-Beijing government and anti-ethnic Uyghur Muslims. Both situations have seen increased calls on social media to cancel Netflix subscriptions.
Wells Fargo analysts contend Netflix will add 2.5 million subs globally in Q3 — down from a previously projected 5 million due to increases in subscriber churn. The culprit: a fivefold churn increase to 4.7% in one-week subscriber defections due to Cuties. The analysts said that could result in a sub loss of 28 million. Netflix is projecting a global sub gain of 2.5 million.
Meanwhile, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said he would surprised if the Cuties controversy extended beyond the United States. The analyst said that with one-third of households considering themselves religious, it’s possible Netflix saw a spike of 1% to 2% over its normal churn.
“Combine that with the pull-forward of new subscribers from shelter-in-place. and they could deliver disappointing domestic subscriber growth,” Pachter said in an email.
The analyst said he would be “shocked” if Netflix raised prices in the face of new competitors such as Disney+, Peacock, Apple TV+ and HBO Max.
“They had no competition before and now they have [competition] priced lower, Amazon content is getting better, and HBO Max will someday figure out how to get their product on Roku-powered TVs,” Pachter said.
“Yes, I think that they can raise the price and that the brand is super strong, but the cult [Netflix bulls] values them at ridiculous levels because the cult believes in unfettered growth, and any shift in that narrative will disappoint them,” he said. “I still don’t expect a price hike.”
Netflix reports third-quarter results Oct. 20.