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Will Netflix’s Dream Run Continue?

By Zahid Waheed – Mar 4, 2014 at 4:54PM

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Do earnings suggest that Netflix will keep up the good work?

Netflix (NFLX -0.13%), the world's leading Internet television site, has given investors a year-over-year return of almost 140%. Some analysts think that the company's heyday is over and it's heading toward maturity. Is this true, or will the company keep on growing? Let's analyze Netflix in detail and compare it to Time Warner's (TWX) HBO and Amazon (AMZN -2.16%).

Netflix's fourth-quarter results
In the fourth quarter, Netflix reported earnings that were more than six times higher than what it earned last year. Net income for the quarter was $48 million or $0.79 per share, which beat the consensus estimate of $0.66, as reported by Reuters.

Revenue increased by more than 25% to $1.18 billion; this was attributed to strong international sales, which jumped 118% to $221.4 million. Domestic revenue also surged 25% to $740.6 million.

Operating income climbed 44% to $82.3 million, backed by strong top-line growth. Contribution margin improved by 490 basis points to 19.3% as the company managed to reduce its marketing and technology development costs.

In the US, more than 2.33 million new subscribers were added during the quarter; analysts expected the company to gain around 2.05 million new memberships. In the international market, Netflix managed to gain 1.74 million new subscribers.

What is Netflix up to?
During the quarter, Netflix invested in an upgrade of its interface in an effort to make the interface more user-friendly. Now, the interface displays more information about movies and serials and it allows users to easily browse the content of their choice.

Netflix has recently struck a $4 million deal with Disney's Marvel Entertainment which will enable Netflix to broadcast series of live-action adventures featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Filming for the series will start in summer this year, and the project will include 60 one-hour episodes. The partnership means that Netflix' subscribers will be able to stream these series' beginning in early 2015. Thanks to this agreement, the company will be able to add more subscribers in the future, as these series are based on some of Marvel's most famous and popular characters.

In addition, the company will continue to broadcast new seasons of its renowned series such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Derek, Hemlock Grove, Lilyhammer, and Turbo F.A.S.T. It will also be launching its first original animated series for adults, BoJack Horseman, and a new series based on the adventures of Marco Polo.

Netflix has also rolled out its streaming application into Virgin Media's set-top box for UK members. Similarly, it has launched the same application across Denmark's Waoo! and Sweden's Com Hem network. The company is aggressively promoting its online media across Brazil and Canada, as these markets offer huge growth potential. Apart from this, Netflix will be investing in Europe as well, although the company hasn't disclosed the target markets there yet. The declining contribution losses from Netflix' international business segment show that the company is heading in the right direction.

Netflix is also testing variations of its current $8 monthly rate at various price points. The company will eventually offer three different sets of pricing options in order to cater to different users' demands and tastes.

In the first quarter of fiscal 2014, Netflix expects to add 2.25 million new subscribers in the US alongside 1.6 million members in the overseas market. Moreover, the company's anticipated per-share earnings stand at $0.78; analysts' consensus estimate is $0.75.

Industry peers
HBO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner, isn't a direct competitor to Netflix. However, Netflix's recent success with its subscription-TV service is seen as a big threat to the premium cable channel.

According to The Wall Street Journal, HBO is responsible for 50% of a typical $16 monthly bill, which is almost the same as Netflix's revenue per user. However, pay-TV operators handle billing, customer service, and even marketing for HBO; Netflix manages all of these functions for itself. Therefore, HBO usually posts larger profits than Netflix does.

However, HBO's growth in the latest quarter shrank as its net profit fell 4% to $413 million. For fiscal 2013, the company reported an operating profit of $1.8 billion while its revenue stood at $4.9 billion.

Amazon has recently said that it will soon be raising the membership price of Amazon Prime by $20 to $40; the current price is $79 per annum. Amazon Prime, which provides its customers free two-day shipping on millions of items along with unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, has had great success in the past. If Amazon does this, its online video content will become far more expensive than that of Netflix. As a result, the company may well lose a lot of loyal members.

Final thoughts
Netflix once again reported a great quarterly performance as its revenue and membership base continued to rise. One of the most important things to note was the company's contribution loss in the international market, which continued to decrease. For this reason, the company is investing in Europe, Canada, and Latin America, as its expectations for these regions are still quite high. The recent agreement with Marvel Entertainment will make sure that Netflix keeps ahead of its competitors in the near future as well. Further, Netflix will certainly attract more members by introducing three different pricing options.

Taking all of this into account, I believe that Netflix's future looks prosperous, hence it provides a great investment opportunity at this point in time.

Zahid Waheed has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of, Netflix, and Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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