Digital video giant Netflix (NFLX 1.56%) has been making millionaires out of ordinary investors for years. If you invested just $2,500 in Netflix when the stock hit the market in 2002, you're looking at a $1.1 million return today. You could also have achieved similar results by putting $16,500 in Netflix stock near the bottom of the Qwikster panic in 2011.
That's not the end of the story. I think that Netflix has many years of market-beating growth ahead of it and that the stock will create many more millionaires along the way. Here's how.
The story so far
Everybody knows Netflix nowadays. The video-streaming market that started as a free giveaway for Netflix's DVD-mailer subscribers has evolved into a global phenomenon. Netflix itself has more than 200 million subscribers worldwide, chased by traditional media titans such as Walt Disney (DIS -0.70%) and ViacomCBS (PARA 1.30%) on a market-by-market basis. Viacom's Peacock is off to a solid start in the USA and Disney+ is actually ahead of Netflix in places like India. But broadly speaking, Netflix is the top dog in this explosive growth market.
The COVID-19 lockdowns didn't create this digital media surge, which was already well under way in 2019, but it sure accelerated the existing trend. The combination of front-loaded subscriber growth and halted content production forced Netflix to deliver positive free cash flows a couple of years earlier than planned. The company dominates the nomination scorecards for the 2021 Golden Globes and Oscars, helped by Hollywood's anemic content production in 2020 and by Netflix's enormous production budget.
We have seen Netflix crush all-comers in the video rental market, only to jump ship and bootstrap an even more bankable activity in digital streaming entertainment. The company is becoming a major production studio faster than yesteryear's production studios are becoming serious video-streaming alternatives.
200 million subscribers may sound like a lot but the addressable market is much larger. There were 1.8 billion TV households around the world in 2020. Middle-class economies are surging alongside greater access to high-speed internet connections and reliable payment services in developing regions such as Africa and Latin America. I don't expect Netflix to land its billionth subscriber any time soon but there's plenty of room for long-term growth here. At the same time, Netflix has a proven ability to raise its service prices without losing subscribers.
OK, but what about the stock returns?
You may need to start with more than $2,500 or $16,500 to make a million from your Netflix investment at this point, but I do expect the stock to keep rising at a market-crushing pace for many years to come. We should see Netflix join the trillion-dollar market cap club within the next decade and the sky is the limit in the long run. Keep in mind that this company won't be afraid to jump on the next game-changing business idea just as quickly as it moved from DVD mailers to streaming services. That's a huge selling point in my book. The ability to adapt to an ever-changing business world is a priceless skill, and it's even better when the company can lead the next revolution from the front lines.
And you haven't missed the boat on Netflix. The stock gained a respectable 51% over the last year, but guess who doubled and tripled their share prices over the same period? That would be Disney and ViacomCBS, respectively. Sure, there's room for several winners in this sea change but Mr. Market is largely ignoring the most likely long-term winner here. Netflix is a fantastic buy today, even if it won't make you a millionaire right away.