When Netflix (NFLX 0.49%) reports its fourth-quarter results in a few weeks, one familiar piece of information will be missing: its subscriber-growth expectations.

Investors have leaned heavily on Netflix's subscriber count, with the share price swinging wildly when the figure significantly overshot or undershot management's estimates. But the company is now focused specifically on just three metrics, according to Co-CEO Ted Sarandos: revenue, profits, and engagement.

In other words, Netflix wants quality subscribers, not just a larger quantity of them.

The biggest, most profitable streamer

Not all subscribers are equal in the eyes of a company.

Just ask Walt Disney (DIS -0.70%), which can technically claim to have more streaming subscribers than Netflix. The House of Mouse counted over 235 million paid subscribers for its trio of streaming services at the end of last quarter. However, around 60 million of those subscribers are Disney+ Hotstar members, who generate an average of just $0.58 of revenue each per month for the company.

Indeed, Disney may have quickly grown a massive subscriber base, but it's still generating substantially less revenue than Netflix. Even the well-established Hulu generates about 75% of the revenue per user as Netflix's U.S. subscribers.

Netflix has tried to point investors toward the importance of its high-revenue subscriber base. In its Q3 letter to shareholders, it noted that all of its competitors are losing money on streaming as they invest heavily to build their subscriber bases. Disney's direct-to-consumer (streaming) segment notably racked up operating losses of $4 billion over the last 12 months. By comparison, Netflix booked operating profits of $5.7 billion in the same period.

Reaccelerating revenue growth

After its revenue growth dropped down to single-digit percentages, Netflix is focused on returning to double-digit percentage revenue growth and operating margin expansion.

There are three ways it can grow its top line: subscriber growth, price increases, and increased engagement with its ad-supported tier (i.e., more ad sales).

Management is less focused on subscriber growth but still wants to make Netflix appealing to everyone in the world. The introduction of its ad-supported tier may support subscriber growth by attracting consumers at a lower monthly price and retaining existing subscribers who might otherwise have canceled due to price. Likewise, a steady slate of fresh content with big releases coming out every month ought to help grow its subscriber base.

Price increases are getting more difficult for Netflix in some markets, so it's now taking a more targeted approach. It plans to ask members who have been sharing their accounts with people outside their household (and who want to keep doing so) to pay more. That could result in higher revenue per account without as much of an impact on subscriber churn as a price hike for everyone.

Finally, the ad-supported tier opens a new opportunity for the company to grow its revenue through increased subscriber engagement. The more an ad-tier Netflix subscriber watches, the more commercials they'll see, and the more revenue Netflix will collect. In the long run, it wouldn't be surprising if Netflix's ad-supported tier produces a higher average revenue per account than its ad-free tiers.

Subscriber engagement underlies all three of these factors. The more engaged a subscriber is, the less likely they are to cancel. The more engaged they are, the more willing they'll be to pay more to share the service. And more engaged users will sit through more advertisements.

Subscriber growth is just one of the factors that can move the top line for Netflix. Focusing on revenue will provide a better indication of how well Netflix is executing on its goals of keeping its subscribers engaged.