Though the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, Netflix’s ability to benefit from it is.
Netflix added just 2.2 million subscribers this quarter, slightly below the company’s own conservative estimate of 2.5 million. Most analysts expected it to easily meet or exceed its forecast for subscribers.
The company blamed the modest gains this quarter on the “pull-forward” effect created by its record growth in the first half of 2020. It added an enormous 26 million subscribers in the first and second quarters of this year as the pandemic forced consumers around the world to stay at home—and that left fewer people to subscribe over the second half of the year.
Consumers suddenly have more entertainment options now, including live sports which were shut down earlier this year. Now that much of the world is reopening, Netflix expects growth trends to revert back to what they were prior to the start pandemic.
Much of that growth has and will continue to come from outside the US. It added just 180,000 members in the US this quarter—more fuel for the theory that the streaming service has nearly maxed out its potential in the country where it’s based. But it’s still seeing rapid growth in other locations, including Latin America and Asia. Netflix said the Asia-Pacific region was the largest contributor to growth in the quarter, and that revenue in the region increased 66% year-over-year.
Netflix shares dropped about 5% in after-hours trading following the news of its subscriber shortfall, though the company doesn’t seem troubled by the miss. In an upbeat letter to shareholders (pdf), it wrote that it was confident in its upcoming slate of programming, especially relative to its competitors. Netflix believes it will complete filming on 150 productions by the end of the year, promising subscribers its never-ending spigot of content won’t falter despite the pandemic continuing to effect film and TV production.
The company’s subscriber forecast for the final quarter of the year (an expected 6 million additions, compared to nearly 9 million in the same quarter last year) reflects the company’s post-pandemic vigilance. The record growth is well in the past, and it’s back to business as usual—fending off Disney, penetrating deeper into markets outside the US, and dominating the streaming landscape as much as it possibly can. And with over $8 billion cash on hand, Netflix said its need for external financing—long viewed by Wall Street as one of the company’s weaknesses—is “diminishing.”