Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

3 Companies That Outspent Netflix on Content in 2021

By Adam Levy – Dec 30, 2021 at 7:56AM

Key Points

  • Two media giants and one tech company outspent Netflix on content last year.
  • Rights to show live sporting events were a major factor in ballooning content budgets.
  • One of Netflix's biggest competitors in streaming is outspending it.

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The streaming giant still has a long way to go to reach to reach the top spot in spending on media content.

By just about any measure, Netflix (NFLX 0.45%) has a massive content budget. It planned to spend $17 billion in cash this year, or about $14 billion on a profit-and-loss basis (which amortizes content costs over their useful life). And that massive content budget has been instrumental in expanding its subscriber base around the world.

But there are three media companies that outspent Netflix in 2021, according to data from Ampere Analysis: Comcast (CMCSA 0.36%), Walt Disney (DIS 0.56%), and Alphabet (GOOG 0.83%) (GOOGL 0.73%). Here are some important takeaways for investors from this particular statistic.

A woman sitting on a couch while eating popcorn and holding a TV remote.

Image source: Getty Images.

Sports rights are expensive

Over one-third of the content costs at Comcast and Disney in 2021 were for the rights to broadcast live sporting events.

Comcast aired the Summer Olympic Games, adding a significant expense to its usual lineup of sports rights, including deals with the NFL, Premier League, PGA, grand slam tennis tournaments, NASCAR, and more.

Meanwhile, Disney is home to ESPN and its trove of sports rights, including deals with the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, several college sports conferences, several European football leagues, and much, much more. Additionally, one of the leading reasons people sign up for Disney+ Hotstar in India is the Indian Premier League and Cricket World Cup matches available on the service.

All that adds up to billions spent on sports rights, an area Netflix has eschewed for years, even as competitors, including Google-owned YouTube and Amazon, snatch up expensive sports rights to increase engagement on their streaming services. Indeed, sports rights are expensive, but they certainly draw in viewers. Sporting events accounted for 95 of the top 100 broadcasts in 2021.

One factor holding back Netflix from investing in sports may be that sports often produce natural commercial breaks for media companies to sell advertisements. That's an area Netflix has no experience with, but Disney, Comcast, Google, and Amazon are all big ad sellers.

YouTube is as big as Netflix

If you account for YouTube's revenue-sharing agreement with content creators on its platform as well as the content it produces itself, it spent over $15 billion this year. YouTube pays out around 55% of revenue to content creators, and it's reported $27 billion in revenue over the previous four quarters. That number should continue to climb higher as more ad spending shifts to digital video.

Teens are particularly heavy YouTube users. They spend 30% of their daily video consumption on the ad-supported streaming service, according to Piper Sandler's most recent "Taking Stock With Teens" survey. Netflix barely edges it out with 32% of video consumption. But as teens grow up and start earning more disposable income, YouTube advertising may become more valuable, generating more revenue for the service and in turn increasing its content expense.

At this point, YouTube generates more revenue than Netflix with a similar content expense. That should make it extremely valuable to investors, and the market may still be undervaluing the segment.

What the future may hold

Content spending will increase across the media industry in 2022. Ampere expects another 5% increase in total content expenses, topping $230 billion for the year.

Disney will be a major contributor to that increase, with plans to spend an additional $8 billion on content in 2022. Most of that spend will go toward its streaming services, with its streaming content budget already starting to rival Netflix's

Comcast may see a slight drop in content expenses, since the Winter Olympic Games cost less than the Summer Games. But YouTube's content costs should continue climbing along with its revenue growth. Netflix will also increase its content spending in 2022 as it works through production bottlenecks and releases more originals than ever. 

All in all, it looks like the big media companies will get bigger while smaller media companies may struggle. The ultimate result could be further consolidation across the industry as companies combine in order to compete for bids on expensive content.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Adam Levy owns Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.