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2010 was a very busy year for Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) .
At the start of the year, Netflix was a firmly established DVD rental service with 12.3 million subscribers. Digital streaming still seemed a bit like a hobby, although the company was building up a serious stable of hardware partners willing to publish its video streams. The stock started out at $53.48 on Jan. 4.
My, how quickly things changed.
Springtime for Netflix
By the end of the month, Netflix had already signed that first infamous 28-day delay agreement with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) , then delivered a blowout quarter to fuel a 23% overnight jump in its share price. From there, Netflix has gone from strength to strength, more than tripling your invested dollars year-to-date.
It wasn't long before rental kiosk vendor Coinstar (Nasdaq: CSTR ) joined Netflix on the delayed side of the fence, leaving Blockbuster alone to corral rental customers looking for steaming fresh releases. So lonely, in fact, that Blockbuster's own rental kiosk partner, NCR (NYSE: NCR ) , ended up jumping ship as well.
But by then the rental space was already a very different ballgame. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in September while Netflix was working hard to leave the whole DVD operation behind. In October, the company proudly announced that its customers spent more time watching digital streams than mailed DVDs, and the customer list had grown to 16.9 million members.
Lately, the stock has attracted a massive short-selling brigade and CEO Reed Hastings has been found debunking some of the concerns that fuel all that shorting. The chief concern on Hastings' mind is competition, as digital powerhouses like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) are gearing up their own streaming solutions. This is a different breed of challenge than old-line rivals like Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, because Apple and Google already know how to turn a profit on digital sales.
Then again, Apple often brings up its Netflix applications as selling points for the iPhone and iPad, and the Apple TV wouldn't amount to much without Netflix support, now would it? Google might have more reason to face off against Netflix, but I think Big G is more likely to buy Netflix than to crush it. How antagonistic can these relationships really be?
Closing the books on 2010
So Netflix is expected to close the year with about 20 million subscribers and a very different set of challenges and opportunities than last year's. The Canadian service is leading the way toward growth further overseas, and relationships with just about every major movie studio appear to be healthy. In fact, Netflix snuggled up just a little bit closer to Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) in December, announcing an exciting slate of streaming content from the Mouse House's expansive TV properties. I have a trial subscription to Hulu Plus, but can rarely find the shows I want there and won't pay to renew it in 2011. Netflix, on the other hand, has become synonymous with TV for my family since I cut the cable cord a month ago. That's strictly anecdotal evidence of the platform's strength, of course, but I can't be the only consumer feeling this way.
Can the stock keep climbing in 2011 or is Hastings flying too close to the sun already? I think you already know where I stand.
The Motley Fool has created a brand-new free report called The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2011. In it, we reveal the little company set to profit from the broadband Internet expansion. No, it's not Netflix -- this company is simply driving that trend for others to exploit.