Netflix hired a CFO from the video-game industry, a space even more addictive than Netflix

Subscriber growth was up, but Wall Street already expected that.
Subscriber growth was up, but Wall Street already expected that.
Image: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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On the heels of Netflix’s big experiment in interactive video, Black Mirror‘s “Bandersnatch,” the streaming giant poached an executive from the video-game industry to be its next chief financial officer. Spencer Neumann, who was CFO of Activision Blizzard—the company behind mega-hits World of WarcraftOverwatch, and Call of Duty—and worked at Walt Disney Company before that, is Netflix’s new financial chief, the company announced on Jan. 2.

Neumann joins the company at a pivotal moment. Netflix, which grew from 50 million to around 137 million subscribers in the last four years, has to prove it’s still the streaming king—and keep boosting subscriber growth—amid an onslaught of competing platforms (Quartz member exclusive). Rivals like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, along with upcoming services from media giants like Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, are coming for Netflix’s viewers.

It’s telling that Netflix chose a CFO like Neumann, who has experience with an entertainment company that has legions of loyal fans like Activision Blizzard, where Neumann became CEO in May 2017. Netflix has been self-producing or investing in bigger and higher-profile projects, including films like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and serial epics like The Witcher, which can require millions in upfront costs and take years to hit the platform. It needs a CFO who knows how to manage those finances—video games, like movies and TV shows, also take years to develop and require plenty of upfront costs.

Netflix has been experimenting with projects that draw on video games as well. The choose-your-own-adventure-style Black Mirror film hit the platform on Dec. 28; it has also released interactive shows for kids. And the company is reportedly exploring an interactive adaptation of its hit series Stranger Things.

During his time at Disney, Neumann also served as the CFO and executive vice president of global guest experience of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, experience that could prove useful as Netflix explores how to extend its brands beyond the small screen.

Neumann replaced Netflix’s longtime CFO, David Wells, who recently departed the company after 14 years. He managed Netflix’s finances during much of its major expansions into streaming video, original programming, and international markets. The company, which spent more than $10 billion on content and marketing last year, was reportedly looking for its next financial leader to be based in the movie mecca of Los Angeles, California, where Netflix has large office and studio spaces. Neumann, who came from Activision Blizzard in Santa Monica, was based there.

On Dec. 31., Activision Blizzard announced that Neumann was being fired with cause; Netflix made its official announcement about Neumann’s hire two days later, on Jan. 2. Activision Blizzard alleged that Neumann violated unspecified legal obligations but that they were unrelated to the company’s financial reporting, according to two filings related to the matter. Given the timeline, it’s unlikely that this came as a shock to Netflix.