Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) blew the market away on Monday, again. Revenue landed just ahead of the dot-com darling's earlier guidance, and the 8.33 million net subscribers it tacked on during the final three months of 2017 is a new record.
If this was a congressional race or a sporting event, this is when the broadcasters on TV would call it. Game's over. Netflix wins. No one's going to catch Netflix at this point. The platform is gaining momentum, and there's nothing -- from hungry competition to a penchant for price hikes -- that's going to dethrone the king of premium streaming.
There doesn't have to be a single winner here. The pie is growing so quickly that everyone can grow with just a reasonable slice of the market. You don't have to beat Netflix to win. Hulu seems to be doing just fine. Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Video is carving out a nice niche. Netflix hasn't skipped a beat. Most of its peers are tight-lipped on subscriber data, but it's fair to say that the 8.3 million members that Netflix gained during the fourth quarter is more than all of its major competitors combined.
What can undo Netflix's leadership? It can price itself out of the market. Netflix can grow complacent. A competitor can scale up in a hurry. Let's assess how likely it is to get tripped up by any of those three scenarios.
Netflix hasn't been a shrinking violet when it comes to rate hikes. We're less than four years removed from the initial increase when the flagship streaming service went from $7.99 to $8.99 a month. We've gone on to have stops at $9.99 and $10.99 along the way. Subscribers haven't shied away from the 38% increase. Netflix's audience has actually more than doubled -- up 143% -- since the first increase was announced.
It's also hard to fathom a scenario in which Netflix will get too cocky, taking its success for granted. It's spending a record $7.5 billion to $8 billion on new content next year, ramping up its research and development, and boosting its marketing budget from $1.3 billion last year to $2 billion in 2018. Netflix isn't allergic to negative free cash flow, more than willing to spend big to scale bigger.
Finally, let's talk about competition. Amazon's a beast, giving its video smorgasbord to members of its Prime membership shopping club at no additional cost. Hulu has the growing catalog of current network television that Netflix lacks. Live TV streaming services are perpetually launching. As competitive as this climate may be, it didn't stop Netflix from adding 24 million net new accounts in 2017 after tacking on 19 million the year before that.
The popular chatter these days is what the House of Mouse will have up its sleeve when it gobbles up even more content assets, but will it really matter? The content acquisition and platform launch won't happen until the first half of 2019, and by then, Netflix'a streaming user base will likely be between 140 million and 150 million worldwide accounts strong.
Can anyone fathom a future other than folks shedding restrictive cable and satellite television bundles and cherry-picking among streaming services? Is there any reason to think that Netflix won't be the default selection for most of the planet, with everyone else sprinkled in according to taste? Call it. The decision is in. Netflix wins.