If content is king, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and AT&T's (NYSE:T) HBO are both serious contenders for the Iron Throne. Netflix walked away with four Oscars during last night's Academy Awards, including its first feature film-related wins. The world's leading streaming service had previously emerged victorious only in documentary categories.
HBO is no lightweight when it comes to accolades for its growing video catalog. If you weren't catching Netflix collecting trophies last night, you might've been distracted by the haunting season three finale of True Detective on HBO. If not, HBO will be a hot topic by the water cooler in a few weeks when the final season of Game of Thrones gets under way.
Netflix has been one of the market's hottest stocks over the last several years. You can't buy into HBO directly, but you can buy into its new parent company AT&T. There are some advantages and disadvantages of buying AT&T if you're looking for an HBO play, but let's go through the motions of sizing up Netflix and AT&T -- two stocks that I own personally -- to see which one is the smarter bet for the coming year.
Netflix dominates the premium streaming video market with nearly 140 million subscribers worldwide. As large as Netflix is, it has managed to accelerate its revenue growth in back-to-back years, though the pace did slow to 27% in its latest quarter -- and decelerating is likely to continue into 2019. There are some serious advantages to Netflix's scalability, especially now that more than half of its membership base is located outside of its home U.S. market.
Folks continue to flock to Netflix despite aggressive pricing moves. Netflix has increased the rate for its most popular streaming platform four times over the past five years, surging 63% in that time. AT&T in general and HBO in particular can't really afford to do that, especially since Netflix remains cheaper than HBO's monthly streaming service.
Buying into AT&T as way to get in on HBO has its advantages. AT&T has a beefy dividend yield of 6.5%, and it has a long tradition of increasing its payouts. AT&T's diverse collection of businesses can also help smooth out any lulls that may happen in HBO viewership. However, that's pretty much all of the positives. On the downside, you have a business that is weighed down by its legacy wireline business and the recent sluggishness at DIRECTV, where subscribers are cancelling at an alarming pace. The non-HBO growth vehicle at AT&T is its healthy wireless business, as well as some of the Time Warner assets that are part of the HBO family.
The sum of all of AT&T's components remains flattish core revenue growth, but profits remain more than plentiful to cover the generous -- and growing -- dividend. Netflix isn't going to be declaring distributions anytime soon, but its capital appreciation in the past has obviously outweighed its quarterly trickle of dividend checks.
Neither company is in a perfect place right now. AT&T may run into some integration hiccups in absorbing HBO parent Time Warner into its bloodstream, and flat organic growth isn't exciting. Netflix stock isn't cheap, and its near-term free cash flow is being held back by big investments in content and platform expansion. Both stocks still have the potential to beat the market in the year ahead -- as I mentioned earlier, I do own both -- but with the recent momentum and success at Netflix, the dot-com darling has to get the nod as the better buy.