It's easy for bears to wonder why Netflix stock hit another all-time high earlier this week at a time when it's in everybody's crosshairs. Every tech, media, and telco wants to be the next Netflix. Somebody is going to leave a mark, and it's certainly not impossible that one of these well-funded fat cats will be the next king of the hill.
The problem is that naysayers have been writing Netflix's obituary for years. It's been 57 months since I wrote a "Good Luck Killing Netflix" article, downplaying the same concern of mounting competition. Netflix would go on to become the S&P 500's biggest gainer in 2013 and 2015. It's smoking the market again in 2017. The stock's been a seven-bagger in that time. Netflix isn't likely to be a seven-bagger through the next 57 months, but there's no reason why it can't keep beating the market as it climbs this seemingly never-ending wall of worry.
House of cords
Netflix is seen as the poster child of the cord-cutting revolution, but this has never been a winner-takes-all cage match. The market is expanding quickly and services are reasonably priced enough for video buffs to go with several streaming services and still pay a lot less than they used to pay their cable or satellite television provider.
We've seen Netflix's user base more than triple over the past five years. Folks are also willing to pay more, as the monthly cover charge at Netflix for its most popular plan has gone from $7.99 to $10.99 in that time.
The biggest challenge for contenders is that content isn't cheap. We learned this week the price that Hulu had to pay to score that Emmy, as minority stakeholder Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) saw the deficit on its 30% stake in Hulu widen sharply in its latest quarter. Forget The Handmaid Tale's Offred. The ultimate handmaid in the streaming space may as well go by the name Ofcontent.
Disney (NYSE:DIS) reports this afternoon, and it also owns a 30% stake in Hulu that will sting its performance. The big story this week is that Disney reportedly had now stalled talks to pay $15 billion to acquire key properties at Twenty-First Century Fox. The popular narrative this week is that the combination of Disney and select Twenty-First Century Fox assets would be a content grab to give it a better shot at competing against Netflix when Disney rolls out its own self-branded streaming service in 2019. With or without Twenty-First Century Fox, it's going to cost a lot of money to matter.
Next year, Netflix is going to spend $7 billion to $8 billion in content, and it will be very profitable. It has the scale to make it work with more than 109 million streaming subscribers. How will the scalability work for platforms lucky to have just millions of subscribers?
Netflix's growth as the competition gets smarter only proves that the pie itself is expanding. New entrants are expanding the market instead of eating at the existing Netflix audience. They won't kill Netflix. They won't storm its castle, not when there's enough green space to build several smaller palaces.