Flicker of vulnerability in Netflix
By Kate Bulkley
For Broadcast July 25, 2018
As the king of the streamers wobbles, will its competitors zoom in? asks Kate Bulkley
Netflix stumbled last week and the market sat up and took notice.
Make no mistake, it is still a force to be reckoned with, given its huge original content commissioning budget and its talent-friendly ethos. But it missed its subscriber growth forecasts by a whopping 1 million and its stock took a dive that wiped $20bn (£15bn) off its valuation in one day.
The share price has somewhat recovered, but the dip pointed to a new vulnerability in the previously unassailable king of the streamers. It also underlined the potential for all Netflix wannabes to rethink their next moves.
Netflix is still in growth mode. It added more than 5 million subscribers in the second quarter, and it has garnered more Emmy nominations than HBO for the first time.
The SVoD giant plans to invest at least $8bn on content in 2018 and is widening its original commissions palette, embracing unscripted as well as scripted – betting on shows that appeal to local audiences as well as those with a global appeal.
The Netflix threat is that it will hoover up local talent, sucking the lifeblood out of domestic broadcaster commissions and luring in viewers, thereby undercutting advertiserand public-funded broadcasters.
It has already cornered US talent with exclusive deals with high-profile showrunners and actors, most recently with Ozark and Arrested Development star and producer Jason Bateman.
It is also leaning into international; Ampere Analysis forecasts that 40% of Netflix’s original slate this year will be non-US. That nearly doubles 2016’s fi gure, when only 23% of original commissions came from beyond its home market.
Meanwhile, Ofcom underlined the growing power of the SVoD providers. In its inaugural Media Nations report, it said that in the first three months of 2018 the number of subscribers to SVoD services in the UK overtook those for pay-TV services for the first time.
“If you follow the money, the talent and the audiences, on-demand and box-set viewing is increasingly potent”
Video streaming services account for 15.4 million subscribers, 300,000 more than those for pay-TV services from Sky, Virgin and BT. So, is it any wonder that Ofcom chief executive Sharon White wants to see a ‘British Netflix’?
As if on cue, Virgin Media announced it was dumping the UKTV channels, including Dave, and nine others that broadcast BBC classics like Red Dwarf and Only Fools And Horses, plus original shows like Taskmaster. Combined, these command nearly 10% of all TV viewing.
Virgin’s major argument is that UKTV cannot offer box-set rights to the BBC shows, something increasingly important to their customers. It turns out that the BBC, the 50% owner of UKTV, is blocking these box-set rights, preferring to keep them for iPlayer.
Now, you can debate if the BBC is right to supports its own platform to the detriment of its UKTV investment, but the bigger point is that as UK broadcasters quibble about on-demand rights, viewers are signing up to Netflix and other services that aggregate content in an easy-to-find, user-friendly app.
But Netflix still has some problems: the competitors are lining up, including Disney, which is close to buying 21st Century Fox (Comcast has dropped out of the bidding) and plans to launch its own Netflix-like service next year.
HBO was just purchased by telco AT&T, which has big ambitions for the premium content maker, and a doubling of Netflix’s marketing spend in the last quarter has not yielded the speedy growth trajectory that market analysts had expected.
So, it’s time to dust off a joint broadcaster SVoD project, Kangaroo, that regulators saw as anti-competitive nine years ago. The market has moved on – similar joint-broadcaster-led SVoD services are under way in France and Germany.
Linear broadcasting is not dead, but if you follow the money, the talent and the audiences, then on-demand and box-set viewing is clearly increasingly potent in the creative and consumption mix. Ignoring this is no longer an option.