What if Netflix Isn't a Loser?

Things have been rough for Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) since peaking last summer, but it's as popular as ever.

Sandvine -- a provider of network policy control solutions -- is out with its latest update on streaming trends. The gem in the data is that Netflix is still accounting for nearly a third of North American downstream traffic during the peak period between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Let's put this into its proper perspective by comparing Netflix to the other popular choices for streaming video at home.

  • Netflix: 32.9%
  • YouTube: 14.8%
  • Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) :
  • Facebook (Nasdaq: FB  ) : 1.5%
  • Hulu: 1.1%
  • HBO Go: 0.5%

Still the one
Now there are plenty of nuggets in the numbers.

For starters, even though Netflix is doing a good job of talking up Amazon.com, Hulu, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) HBO as rivals, it's not even close. Netflix is serving up 18 times more content to North American homes than Amazon. The disparity gets even more ridiculous when comparing Netflix to Hulu or HBO's online platform.

We can also dismiss Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) YouTube and Facebook, at least as the comparison relates to Netflix. These sites are serving up free user-generated content. It should be comforting for YouTube to know that it's serving up 10 times the content as Facebook's fast-growing video platform, but these companies aren't really bent on pushing premium video services -- at least not yet.

Back to Netflix: Keep in mind that the leading video service also had 33% of the market in spring of last year. At the time, Sandvine figured that it would be all downhill for Netflix, as a percentage of the market, from there.

Amazon had just entered the market in February of last year with its Prime Instant Videos platform. Rumors of Hulu being acquired and taken to the next level would soon start making the rounds. It didn't matter.

A few months after the springtime study, Netflix angered many of its users by effectively raising rates on those that didn't want to choose between DVD or streaming plans.

Well, where are we now? Netflix closed out the third quarter with a record 25.1 million domestic streaming customers. It's serving up more than a billion hours of digital content a month.

Where's the competition hiding?

Things can only get better
Let's be fair.

Amazon's library of content continues to grow. Disc-dispensing giant Redbox is supposed to jump into this market by the end of this year. Desperate cable and satellite television companies -- after once again shedding subscribers during the third quarter -- will continue to beef up their streaming offerings.

Things can get hairier for Netflix.

After all, it's hard to imagine things getting better. Since audio and video streaming account for 65% of all downstream traffic on fixed networks through North America, according to Sandvine, Netflix is really accounting for half of that traffic! Surely it can only go downhill from here.

Right?

Well, maybe not. For starters, Sandvine is only measuring fixed home networks here. Netflix has had years of developing and updating its mobile apps. Yes, the form factor of smartphones and tablets make it more comfortable for viewing the short video clips consumers take in through YouTube or Facebook, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Netflix is doing even better on mobile devices compared to its premium movie and TV show services.

Investors should also remember that this is an expanding pie. Having a third of the market now means a lot more viewers than a third of the market a year or two ago.

Amazon and Hulu have a long way to go before this battle gets interesting. There may be tactical reasons for Netflix to be playing up the competition. It's obviously a great way to negotiate for lower rates for content when it tries to pass itself off as anything other than the market-thumping giant that it truly is. Investors need to know the difference. Netflix is here to stay, even if it's just being modest.

Stream on
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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2012, at 9:21 PM, KewlToyZ wrote:

    The new Windows 8 app was not a very good effort. I am disappointed because they refuse to let it run on the desktop mode in the browser because it detects Windows 8 and the video quality is terrible. It actually switched the desktop to poor video quality as well. Even my cell phone has a search function, but the Netflix App on windows 8 doesn't. They really screwed up that implementation. 10 Thumbs way down.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2012, at 9:22 PM, KewlToyZ wrote:

    I also have to add, it is a Beta and locking out based upon the operating system is just begging for hacks.

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