Apple (AAPL 0.68%) and Walt Disney (DIS -0.12%) are about to enter the streaming wars, and there are concerns that it could make things a lot more difficult for Netflix (NFLX -1.74%). Both companies will launch streaming services in early November and their announced pricing plans are going to undercut Netflix significantly.
The standard monthly subscription in the U.S. for Apple TV+ will cost about $5, while Disney+ will run about $7 monthly. By comparison, Netflix's cheapest U.S. plan is about $9 a month, with most users opting for the $13-a-month option.
Despite the big gap in price potentially threatening to reduce the number of U.S. Netflix subscribers, Netflix investors may want to hold off before deciding that now is the time to jump ship. While there are likely going to be some tough times ahead for Netflix, that doesn't mean that there will be a significant drop off in its viewership, at least not right away.
Will users stay put or simply add more streaming services?
It's clear there's pessimism among investors, with Netflix's share price falling about 29% since hitting a 52-week-high in early May, not long after additional details about the Apple and Disney streaming plans started coming out. But things may not be as bad as expected.
A September survey done by investment bank Piper Jaffray of around 1,500 current Netflix subscribers found that about 75% of them aren't interested in switching to either Disney+ or Apple+. It also found that, even among users who plan to add the services, a strong majority of them are likely to keep their Netflix subscriptions intact.
Michael Olson, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, concluded that, "Most existing Netflix subscribers appear to be trending toward multiple streaming video subscriptions, especially as many continue to reduce their spend on traditional TV offerings."
Why are consumers so loyal to Netflix?
According to data from Forbes from late last year, Netflix has a renewal rate of 93%, which is well above Amazon Prime's renewal rate of 75%. Netflix has been competing with multiple services for a while now, yet it's still been able to dominate.
One of the biggest reasons subscribers have remained very loyal to Netflix is that the company is committed to creating new content for its users. It's demonstrated a lot of success in developing hit shows, and many of them are among the most popular on the internet.
However, there's one big challenge for Netflix: With competition ramping up even more now with Disney and Apple getting involved, it could put even more strain on the company to invest more money into producing content, and cash has already been burning at a fast rate.
Takeaway for investors
For investors, the survey is definitely welcome news, as it suggests that the outlook may not be so bad for the company. The problem, however, is that the results of the survey could easily change months from now when some content from Disney and other studios ends its run on Netflix and there's less syndicated content for subscribers. While the company can continue producing original content to replace it, cash flow issues could hamper its ability to generate enough to stay competitive.
And as Apple and Disney start building their own catalogs, Netflix subscribers may find it harder to justify keeping their subscriptions, especially given the higher price tag. While many consumers may keep multiple subscriptions, that may not be a feasible option, especially if a recession hits and streaming services start looking expensive.
But even if Netflix doesn't end up losing many subscribers, it's still a very expensive growth stock, and in order for it to justify a price-to-earnings multiple that now exceeds 100 , it's going to need to continue growing rather than just maintaining the status quo. That's going to be a lot more challenging amid so much more competition.
That's why, despite the positive survey results, I'd still be a bit concerned with Netflix's direction and its ability to keep subscribers happy over the long term.