When you sit atop the mountain as the unquestioned leader of your category, you become a target. Every rival wants to knock off the king. That's why the most recent Super Bowl champion always has a tough time repeating the feat -- every team it plays has that game circled on its schedule as a special test.
It seems safe to call Netflix (NFLX -0.38%) the champion among streaming services. It's the unquestioned leader in its space, which has led to a variety of major players, including Walt Disney (DIS), AT&T (T 0.74%), and Comcast (CMCSA -0.57%), setting their sights on toppling the king.
That's a daunting position to be in, but it shouldn't panic investors into selling. Netflix has new competition and some serious challengers. The worst move for investors in the technology stock would be to get scared and think that Disney+, NBC's Peacock, or AT&T/Time Warner's HBO Max will hurt the streaming leader in the long term.
A look at the market
Netflix has succeeded both as an add-on for people who have cable and as an alternative for those who have chosen to cut the cord. As cord-cutting accelerates, the market for streaming services will grow.
Cable lost 1.49 million customers in 2017 and 2.87 million in 2018. Those losses seem small compared to this year: The industry has already seen roughly 4.5 million paying customers leave through the first three quarters.
That's good news for Netflix (and maybe for its rivals). You can argue that people who pay for cable will have a limited budget for streaming services. Those consumers may leave Netflix if they find Disney+ offers a better value (it's hard to picture too many people opting for Peacock or HBO Max, but in theory, they're in this discussion as well).
However, cord-cutters and cord-nevers (those who have never subscribed to cable) won't have the same budgetary concerns. If those consumers aren't spending over $100 a month for cable, their entertainment budgets can easily accommodate Netflix -- and a few of its rivals.
Netflix has a content advantage over all of its rivals. Disney has a more impressive lineup for a family audience, but it's not offering R-rated content, and that limits its overall appeal. Peacock and HBO Max have the content libraries of Comcast/NBC and Time Warner behind them, but neither service has shown much propensity to create compelling originals to pair with their strong libraries of content to drive adoption.
Netflix shareholders have nothing to worry about
The streaming leader may experience the occasional quarter where growth comes in below expectations. It's also possible that it has reached near-saturation in the United States and that it may even have quarters where it loses a few subscribers in its home market.
In the long term, though, Netflix has a content library that will continue to attract consumers. As the cable industry slowly (or maybe quickly) implodes, it will create more opportunities for streaming companies.
Right now, Netflix has a huge lead with over 158 million subscribers globally. That makes it the top streaming service by a wide margin. To keep that lead as the market changes, it has a bit of wiggle room. The company probably doesn't have to be a consumer's first choice; it just has to be one of the top choices since cord-cutters will almost certainly opt for multiple subscriptions.
Currently, 74% of all Americans subscribe to at least one streaming service, and 69% of those people pay for more than one, according to research from Leichtman Research Group. More than half of U.S. households (51%) subscribe to more than one streaming video service. That's up from 33% in 2017 and 20% in 2015.
Those numbers will continue to increase as cord-cutting becomes more common. That essentially lowers the bar for Netflix. It doesn't have to be the best value or the most popular service to thrive. It only has to be one of the best, and it's hard for anyone to argue that it's not.