There's another analyst growing skeptical about the near-term prospects at Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). Shares of the leading premium streaming video service moved lower on Monday after Evercore analyst Ken Sena slashed his price target on the stock from $450 to $380.
It's a pretty big move, and since Netflix shares are caught in the middle of that shift it essentially means Sena sees the stock moving lower -- not higher -- in the coming months. And, yes, Sena's move also results in his neutral rating on the stock dropping to a bearish sell rating.
Sena's bearish turn comes at a time when the competition is starting to heat up, and his fear is that programming costs will be a sticking point as energized rivals take on Netflix in bidding up original and exclusive content.
HBO Now -- the leading premium movie channel's first stand-alone streaming service -- rolls out next month, just as its flagship Game of Thrones returns for its fifth season. Recent chatter about the bidding for Seinfeld's digital catalog finds three reported bidders for the iconic franchise, and Netflix isn't one of them.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
An argument can be made that HBO Now will actually help Netflix. It will encourage more people to cut the cord tethering them to their cable and satellite television providers. That will give them more money to use existing platforms as building blocks. Sling TV, Hulu, and naturally Netflix would benefit from folks seeking video entertainment.
Netflix can't match HBO Now in terms of exclusive content. As great as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black may be, they are no match for the magnetism of Game of Thrones, Girls, and True Detective. However, Netflix has a much deeper library of licensed content, and at $8.99 a month it's a lot cheaper than HBO Now's $14.99 price point.
Yes, the distribution advantages that Netflix used to enjoy are being diminished. A big reason for Netflix's early success is that it had deals with the makers of video game consoles, Blu-ray players, and DVRs to offer seamless connectivity to Netflix. That playing field has been leveled with the influx of cheap set-top devices offering a broad range of apps. However, Netflix is making up for that by outspending the competition.
Netflix kicks off 2015 with $9.5 billion in streaming content obligations, up from a still lofty $7.3 billion a year earlier. Who do you think is willing to commit that kind of capital to merely match Netflix's outlays? If someone did, it's a safe bet that the service wouldn't be able to price itself as aggressively as Netflix has, especially since it would be tens of millions of people behind Netflix's global streaming audience of 61.4 million accounts.
Sena's right about competition starting to heat up, but he may be missing the mark by underestimating how the reinvigorated and educated marketplace will continue to flock to Netflix.