November has been a big test for Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). It saw the launch of two new competitors with big budgets for both content and marketing: Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Disney+ and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Apple TV+.
However, despite the hype, success, and significantly lower price points of Netflix's new competitors, internal data from the company shows no change to how many Netflix subscribers are cancelling their service, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, research from Credit Suisse analysts found little impact from the competition as well. "Our Sensor Tower App downloads and Google search data analysis showed little-to-no impact from the Disney+ launch on Netflix trends," analyst Douglas Mitchelson wrote in a note to investors. That suggests consumers are still downloading Netflix and signing up for the service at the same pace as in prior months.
What we aren't seeing
In the company's third-quarter letter to shareholders, Hastings warned the launch of the new services would be "noisy." "There may be some modest headwind to our near-term growth, and we have tried to factor that into our guidance," management wrote.
That short-term noise hasn't shown up in subscriber losses, according to the reported data, but it may come in the form of how much time viewers are spending with Netflix versus Disney+ and Apple TV+. Most subscribers aren't going to cancel their tried-and-true Netflix subscription as soon as they sign up for a competing service. That's especially true since many consumers are getting one or both for free due to various bundling promotions.
However, if consumers find themselves spending more time with Disney+ or Apple TV+ than Netflix, they may decide at some point to cut ties with the streaming leader. That's why Hastings says time is the ultimate measure of who's winning the streaming wars. Consumer spending is usually in line with how people spend their time.
Assessing the long-term impact
"Global streaming competition is a marathon rather than a sprint," Mitchelson said in his note disclosing his data from Google and Sensor Tower. Netflix's management would agree. "In the long term, though, we expect we'll continue to grow nicely given the strength of our service and the large market opportunity," management said in the sentence following its warning that new services will create noise. It's held that stance since the start of the year, saying, "We don't anticipate that these new entrants will materially affect our growth" in the first quarter.
Hastings believes the growth of competition over the long run will come not from Netflix, but from decreased linear TV viewing. Cord-cutting accelerated this year, and 2020 isn't shaping up to be much better. The average consumer spends a lot more money on their pay-TV subscription than on a Netflix subscription.
There's also the potential that Disney+ cuts into traditional home video viewing instead of competing video-on-demand services or linear TV. Disney's home video business is massive, but Disney+ ought to cannibalize those sales and all the time families spend playing their Moana DVDs over and over again.
Netflix investors have turned particularly cautious after two straight quarters of missed subscriber estimates. But the early signs indicate the new competition hasn't had an affect on its subscriber numbers so far, and more internal (price increases) or systemic factors (market saturation) are to blame for the recent misses.
The competition's results and impact are certainly something to keep an eye on as the low-priced services could decrease the relative value of Netflix if they cut into watch time. But Netflix investors shouldn't be too worried for now.