Mixed Feelings from Netflix’s Earnings Report

Netflix released its earnings yesterday. There are causes for optimism and concern from what I have seen.

Important metrics improved YoY significantly

This quarter, Netflix added 517,000 domestic paid subscribers and more than 6.2 million international paid members, bringing the total subscriber count domestically and internationally to more than 60.6 million and 97.7 million approximately.

Contribution margin for domestic and international streaming is 41% and 20% respectively, resulting in the margin for streaming to be around 30%. Contribution margin of Domestic DVD is around 61%. Contribution margin represents what is left of revenue after all the variable costs to pay for fixed costs and to generate profit.

On a year over year basis, revenue, operating income and paid memberships saw remarkable growth for a company this size

Cause for concerns

Even though domestic paid memberships increased, Netflix missed its own expectation by almost 300,000, making it the second consecutive quarter that it did so. The company blamed the miss on the higher pricing elasticity than expected

That’s really on the back of the price increase. There is a little more sensitivity. We’re starting to see the – a little touch of that. What we have to do is just really focus on the service quality, make us must-have. I mean we’re incredibly low priced compared to cable. We’re winning more and more viewings. And we think we have a lot of room there.

But this year, that’s what’s hit us. And we’ll just stay focused on just providing amazing value to our members in the U.S. And I think that gives us a real shot at continuing to grow net — long-term net adds on an annual basis. But we’re going to be a little cautious on that guidance and feel our way through here.

CEO – Reed Hasting in Earnings Call (Per Seeking Alpha)

I saw a sentiment floating around on Twitter a while back that argued that Apple TV+ and Disney+ aren’t really competitors to Netflix. I mean, to some extent, they may differ a bit from Netflix, but if we want to talk about competing for viewers’ attention, time and disposable income, how can they not be? Sure, boats move different from trains, but if patrons can choose either to go from point A to point B, how can they not compete with each other? Now Reed Hasting admitted the challenge from other streamers, especially Disney+

From when we began in streaming, Hulu and YouTube and Amazon Prime back in 2007, 2008, we’re all in the market. All 4 of us have been competing heavily, including with linear TV for the last 12 years. So fundamentally, there’s not a big change here. It is interesting that we see both Apple and Disney launching basically in the same week after 12 years of not being in the market. And I was being a little playful with a whole new world in the sense of the drama of it coming. But fundamentally, it’s more of the same, and Disney is going to be a great competitor. Apple is just beginning, but they’ll probably have some great shows, too.

But again, all of us are competing with linear TV. We’re all relatively small to linear TV. So just like in the letter we put about the multiple cable networks over the last 30 years not really competing with each other fundamentally but competing with broadcast, I think it’s the same kind of dynamic here.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Chief Product Officer Gregory Peters made an important point below

I would say our job and then what we think our pricing for a long-term perspective is continue to take the revenue that we have that our subscribers give us every month, judiciously and smartly invest it into increasing variety and diversity of content where we really want to be best-in-class across every single genre.

And if we do that and we’re successful in making those investments smartly, we’ll be able to continue to deliver more value to our members. And that really will enable us to, from time to time, ask for more revenues so that we can continue that virtuous cycle going

Source: Seeking Alpha

Quite an important “if” condition there. In short, Netflix borrows capital to invest in content to the tune of billions of dollars every year and hopes that their subscriber base growth and revenue will keep enabling them to do so. In essence, every streamer will do that. Every single one of them needs to churn out quality content to convince viewers to choose their service. Failure to produce quality content to justify expensive investments will be costly for these streamers.

For Netflix, the stakes seem to higher. Other competitors have additional revenue streams apart from their streaming service. Netflix essentially relies on their subscription revenue. As this quarter shows, the price elasticity already has some negative effect, and it’s BEFORE other heavy-marketed competitors such as Apple TV+ and Disney+ debut in 2-4 weeks. The new challengers price their services at much lower points than Netflix. The room to increase price to recoup their investments faster is getting smaller. I do think a price hike will negatively affect Netflix.

Some may say: oh Amazon kept investing heavily in their early days as well and Netflix can be the same. They are not, as I wrote here. Their free cash flow continues to be in the red while Amazon was in the black for years.

The expensive bidding war for content may play into Netflix’s favor. Their huge subscriber base enables them to spread the cost much better than competitors, especially new ones that have to acquire subscribers from scratch. Hence, it can be argued that Netflix will be one of the only few standing after the dust settles. It does make sense to think about the streaming war’s future that way. As does it make sense to think that there is a possibility that the game Netflix is playing may not work out for them, given the intense competition, the decreased price inelasticity, the huge debt they have incurred and the continuous negative free cash flow.

I think that we will have more clues around the next earning call or two as we’ll see how Netflix will fare after the arrival of Apple TV+ and Disney+. Even then, we won’t know definitively who will win in the end. Fascinating times ahead.

Weekly readings – 19th October 2019

Amazon published their official position on a few social issues

Global electric car sales and market share, 2013-18

Source: IEA

The poor in America pay a higher tax rate than the rich. I guess the tax cut is doing what it is supposed to? (I am being sarcastic)

TurboTax’s decade-long war to prevent Americans from filing taxes online for free. I was angry when I read this article. Billions of hours and dollars are wasted every year on filing taxes and only a handful of people benefit at the expense of millions

To buy a phone in China, a face scan will be required as of 1st December 2019

Bob Iger’s massive bet on Disney’s future.

Sleep Deprivation Shuts Down Production of Essential Brain Proteins. The sleep deprivation pandemic is real in our society and there doesn’t seem to be signs of its abating.

How Amazon is redefining the expensive and wasteful process of returns

Boeing lead pilot warned about flight-control system tied to 737 Max crashes, then told regulators to delete it from manuals. Frankly, this is just disgusting. Boeing is one of the two plane manufacturers that dominate the sky and it still has this kind of behavior

Book: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

Admittedly, before reading this book, I already had vested interest in Disney. I am fascinated by the transformation that the company has been going through and I own its stock in my humble portfolio. Nonetheless, it is one of those books that I have read with more focus than I have others.

The book offers interesting insights into the transformation Disney had to go through to revive its Animations and fend off the disruption in the Entertainment industry. Through the words of Bob Iger, the delicacy of M&A negotiations is put on display, including prices paid for companies, the process to get the sellers to sell and the politics that come with acquisitions. To a fan of business strategies and technology, it’s fascinating to read.

One of the things I like about the book is the relationship between Bob Iger and the late great Steve Jobs. Bob repeatedly mentioned his admiration and love for Steve, even long after the late co-founder of Apple died. If you live your live so well that people fondly remember you long after you die and that you change lives while you live, it’s a life magnificently lived. Almost 10 years since his death, Steve is still an inspiration to me.

Bob’s account is an example of how patience and hard work can be rewarding in the long run. He used to be a guy grabbing coffee for Frank Sinatra. In his 50s and 60s, he ran one of the most iconic and influential companies in the world. He also gives away his leadership lessons which I will quote below.

All in all, if you are looking for an easy and good read, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Decades after I stopped working for Roone, I watched a documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about a master sushi chef from Tokyo named Jiro Ono, whose restaurant has three Michelin stars and is one of the most sought-after reservations in the world. In the film, he is his late eighties and still trying to perfect his art. He is described by some as being the living embodiment of the Japanese word shokunin, which is “the endless pursuit of perfection for some greater good”

When Iron Man 2 came out, Steve took his son to see it and called me the next day. “I took Reed to see Iron Man 2 last night” he said “It sucked”

“Well thank you. It’s done about $75 million in business. It’s going to do a huge number this weekend. I don’t take your criticism lightly, Steve, but it’s a success and you’re not the audience” (I knew Iron Man 2 was nobody’s ida of an Oscar winner, but I just couldn’t let him feel he was right all of the time

Later, after we’d closed the deal, Ike told me that he’d still had his doubts and the call from Steve made a big difference to him. “He said you were true to your word” Ike said. I was grateful that Steve was willing to do it as a friend, really, more than as the most influential member of our board. Every one in a while, I would say to him, “I have to ask you this, you’re our largest shareholder” and he would always respond, “You can’t think of me as that. That’s insulting. I’m just a good friend”

After the funeral, Laurene came up to me and said, “I’ve never told my side of that story.” She described Steve coming home that night. “We had dinner and then the kids left the dinner table, and I said to Steve, ‘So did you tell him?’ ‘I told him’. And I said, ‘Can we trust him?’ ” we were standing there with Steve’s grave behind us, and Laurene, who’d just buried her husband, gave me a gift that I’ve thought about nearly every day since. I’ve certainly thought of Steve every day. “I asked him if we could trust you” Laurene said. “And Steve said, ‘I love that guy’ “

No matter who become or what we accomplish, we still feel that we’re essentially the kid we were at some simpler time long ago. Somehow that’s the trick of leadership, too, I think, to hold on to that awareness of yourself even as the world tells you how powerful and important you are. The moment you start to believe it all too much, the moment you look yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way. That may be the hardest but also the most necessary lesson to keep in mind, that wherever you are along the path, you’re the same person you’ve always been

Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them

“Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest trombone-oil manufacturer in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year!” He was telling me not to invest in small projects that would sap my and the company’s resources and not give much back.

At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to step into your shoes – giving them access to your own decision-making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up

Technological advancements will eventually make older business models obsolete. You can either bemoan that and try with all your might to protect the status quo, or you can work hard to understand and embrace it with more enthusiasm and creativity than your competitors.

Notable notes from Disney’s earning call

Today, Disney released their 2019 Q3 result. Below are a few points that stood out for me

  • Hulu got 28 million paid subscribers while the figure for ESPN+ stood at 2.4 million
  • The integration of 21 Century Fox had negative impact on Disney’s earning, including the subpar performance of movies such as Dark Phoenix
  • Direct-to-Consumer & International segment expected to make $900 million loss in the next quarter, due to investment in the launch of Disney + and support for Hulu, ESPN+
  • Fantastic results for the studio as per Bob Iger

The studio has generated $8 billion in global Box Office in 2019, a new industry record. And we still have five months left in the calendar year with movies like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still to come. So far this year, we’ve released 5 of the top 6 movies including four that have generated more than $1 billion in global Box Office. Avengers: Endgame is now the highest grossing film in history with almost $2.8 billion worldwide. Captain Marvel, Aladdin and The Lion King have each surpassed $1 billion. And with more than $960 million in Box Office to date, Toy Story 4 will likely cross that threshold in the coming weeks. And all of these movies will be on Disney+ in the first year of launch.

SeekingAlpha
  • The leadership behind the studio will manage the film strategy for 21 CF as well
  • Deadpool, Fantastic 4 and X-Men will be part of Marvel Studios
  • Come this November, users can have access to Disney+, Hulu (ads-supported) and ESPN+ as a bundle for $12.99 a month, well below the total sum of all threes, if subscribed separately
  • “Hotstar had more than 300 million average monthly users, served an unprecedented 100 million daily users and delivered a high-quality streaming experience to 25.3 million simultaneous users, which is a new world record”
  • Disney is discussing deals with Apple, Amazon and Google as distribution partners, deals that are expected to close
  • Focus on marketing for Disney+, per Bob Iger

Disney+ marketing is going to start to hit in later this month, later in August. We’re actually going to allow members of D23 to be the first to subscribe. I’m actually going through a comprehensive marketing plan with the team next week. Comprehensive probably is an understatement. It is going to be treated as the most important product that the company has launched in, I don’t know, certainly during my tenure in the job, which is quite a long time. And you will see marketing both in traditional and nontraditional directions basically digital and analog also significant amount of support within the company on basically company platforms. And then of course all of the touch points that the company has, whether it’s people staying in our hotels, people that have our co-branded credit card, people who are members of D23, annual passholders, I could go on and on. But the opportunities are tremendous to market this. And I feel good about some of the creative that I’ve already seen. But you won’t start to see it until later this month.

SeekingAlpha

Quick Thoughts

I cannot wait to see the battle of the streamers and how well Disney+ will fare. As a student of business, I am fascinated to see the strategies and execution of Disney+ vs Netflix. Netflix has a huge subscriber base as advantage over Disney+, in addition to a household name (ever heard of “Netflix and chill”?) and some great original content. But Disney has its own strengths as well, including marketing expertise, household name, a great content library and additional revenue streams.

I am thrilled to see how fast Disney+ will be able to sign up folks. The emphasis on marketing, the aggressive pricing of the streaming service, the bundle and the focus on exclusive content in spite of loss from licensed deals show that Disney is dead serious. It will be interesting to see how viewers will react and whether there will be some market share loss by Netflix at the hands of Disney+ and other upcoming streamers.

I honestly don’t know how it will go. As a fan and a consumer, I cannot wait to see.

Disclaimer: I own Disney stocks in my portfolio.

Disney+

Thursday was a big day for Disney as the company announced the much anticipated streaming service called Disney+. You can learn more about it from this link. The top executives went through a lot of aspects of the new service, including programming, roll-out plan, pricing, investment in future original content and forecast financial impact. The service will offer users ad-free access to an incredible library of content owned by Disney, such as Marvel movies, Pixar, Star Wars, Disney and National Geographic. Users will also be enjoying some new original content such as WandaVision, Loki or Falcon and The Winter Soldier. The price is very attractive at $6.99/month or $69.99/year with all content downloadable for offline consumption.

It is a serious challenge to Netflix as Disney has plenty of content that can appeal viewers across demographics, the brand name, the marketing expertise and the financial resources. It can be argued to some extent that Netflix also has a brand name (apparently “Netflix and chill” is quite popular in our society), content (it invests billions of dollars in originals) and the marketing power. But there are two things that Disney has going for them: additional revenue streams and the ability to bundle more.

Firstly, below is the segmentation of Disney’s revenue and operating income. (Figures are from Disney 2018 & 2017 annual reports and in $ millions)

Metric2018201720162015
Revenue – Services        50,869         46,843         47,130         43,894
Revenue – Products          8,565           8,294           8,502           8,571
Revenue – Media Networks        24,500         23,510         23,689         23,264
Revenue – Parks and Resorts        20,296         18,145         16,794         16,162
Revenue – Studio Entertainment          9,987           8,379           9,441           7,366
Revenue – Consumer Products & Interactive Meida          4,651           4,833           5,528           5,673
Operating Income – Media Networks          6,625           6,902           7,755           7,793
Operating Income – Parks & Resorts          4,469           3,774           3,298           3,031
Operating Income – Studio Entertainment          2,980           2,355           2,703           1,973
Operating Income – Consumer Products & Interactive Media          1,632           1,744           1,965           1,884

In 2018, Parks and Resorts’ operating income is almost three times that of Netflix in total, let alone other segments of Disney.

Source: Netflix

I think it’s great for Disney to offer an attractive penetration pricing model to quickly sign up viewers and scale up. Additional revenue streams, in my opinion, can help finance the play. Meanwhile, a Netflix plan is almost twice as expensive as Disney+, at least in the US market. I doubt that Netflix will lower its price to match Disney+’s, given their increasingly big investment in content and troubling negative free cash flow.

Source: Netflix

It’s not a zero-sum game. I believe that a lot of viewers will have both streaming services or even have Netflix exclusively, but on the other hand, some will likely choose Disney+ over Netflix. If the economy is still strong and folks have disposable income to spare, I think it will be beneficial for Netflix. However, if the economy contracts in the future and spending cut is required, I suspect that Disney+ at this current price will appeal more than Netflix.

Secondly, Disney now also has ESPN+, a sports subscription, and Hulu. Disney already said that there was a chance they would bundle Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ together. It will be even more attractive to viewers.

With all that being said, execution matters. Though it seems Disney has a lot going for them, this is a new territory for them while Netflix is the trail blazer in video streaming services. I am excited about this competition in the future and Disney+ itself, as a big Marvel fan.

Disclaimer: I have Disney in my portfolio, but this post stems from my curiosity and is not an investment suggestion or anything more than just my opinion.

Weekly Readings – 23rd March 2019

Chi Dung’s R collection. This guy’s work is impressive. If you are interested in R, take a look.

The Big Brexit Short. I really like this kind of investigative videos by Bloomberg. I honestly don’t follow Brexit enough. Hence, it’s good to know about this potential scheme. I highly recommend you check out Bloomberg’s Youtube channel. Treasure trove of good information.

What the hell is going on. A very long, yet informative study on how the switch from information scarcity to information abundance affects business, education and politics.

On the Hunt for Japan’s Elaborate, Colorful Manhole Covers. An interesting story on a beautiful aspect of Japan’s culture.

How India conquered YouTube. I find the article fascinating and informative. A good overview of Youtube’s popularity in India and the media consumption behavior in the country.

Howard Marks’ memos. His excellent and insightful memos are praised and read by Warren Buffets and many investors.

I found two links here and here that are very helpful in understanding the subscription model.

Nine Reasons Why Disney+ Will Succeed (And Why Four Criticisms are Overhyped). A fair and detailed piece on Disney+, Disney’s upcoming streaming service. I cannot wait to try the service myself

Inside AirBnb’s “Guerrilla War” against Local Governments. A very good article on how AirBnb fought local governments in the US to avoid taxes and restrictions that the local lawmakers sought to put on them. I am a believer in the fact that if the law allows you to avoid taxes, you have every right to not pay taxes and stay competitive. However, fighting hard to stop new laws (laws always play catch-up with the business world) intended to make AirBnb pay taxes is a bit too far. Loss of taxes strips a local government of necessary revenue to fund projects that will benefit citizens. If your business earns millions of dollars in revenue and profit, what’s the reason for not paying taxes? Simply by “being a platform”?

Pinterest S-1. The photo bookmarking company filed to go public.