The once-elusive China may finally be in the cards -- the House of Cards, if you will -- for Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). Bloomberg is reporting that Netflix is in talks to enter the world's most-populous nation through a partnership with the Jack Ma-backed Wasu.
Whether this means that the Netflix brand will roll out in China or that its content will be licensed through the existing Wasu platform remains to be seen. Either way it would be a big move for a company that seemed to all but give up on making a play for China a couple of years ago.
"It's unclear in the long term how it might work for us in China," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a Wall Street Journal interview three years ago, when asked if Netflix would eventually be available all over the world. "But if you said almost everywhere other than China, I'd be pretty confident we'd be there in less than 10 years."
A lot has changed since the fall of 2012 for Netflix. For starters, it has pushed up the deadline for global expansion. We're no longer looking at 2022 as the finish line for Netflix's flag planting. It revealed in January's letter to shareholders that it expects to complete its global push by the end of next year. It then expects to generate "material global profits" from 2017 onward.
It's clear that Netflix was going to have to woo a homegrown partner if it were ever to make a play in China. It's a restrictive government, and we've seen everyone from video game publishers to dot-com darlings team up with a Chinese company to make a play for a piece of the market.
Things get even hairier when it comes to streaming video, as China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television has given Internet TV licenses to just seven companies. One of them, naturally, is Wasu.
It will take some time to see how this plays out. This may not be a lucrative market right away. Content licensing and bandwidth costs are high, and the subscription fees that China is willing to pay are low. Youku Tudou is a leader in streaming video in China, and it has posted three years of widening deficits, according to S&P Capital IQ data.
However, the Chinese online video market is obviously going to get only bigger over the years. Netflix is right to act now -- with a partner -- instead of waiting for an opportunity to come for it to go in on its own. It might be too late if it waits. It's time for Netflix to look at its 2012 self, laugh, and brush up on Mandarin.