Netflix's (NASDAQ:NFLX) business and its stock price are headed in opposite directions lately. Shares are down 15% since the company announced that it had added a record 5.6 million new subscribers in Q4 to push its global base to 75 million paying customers.
That sets up an important month for Netflix investors, as a few critical developments in the business could send the stock price swinging in April.
Less content, more impact
If you have a sneaking suspicion that your content choices on Netflix have decreased, you're right. According to tracking site AllFlicks, the streaming catalog has shrunk by almost one-third in the past few years: Whereas users had 8,000 TV shows and movies to chose from at the beginning of 2014, there are only about 5,500 titles on the service right now.
This is no accident. CEO Reed Hastings and his team have decided that the company can provide a better overall service by carefully selecting a range of quality content for users rather than streaming everything under the sun. "We've found that the 20th documentary about bicycling will mostly just take away viewing from the other 19 such docs," executives explain in their long-term view, so "instead of trying to have everything, we should strive to have the best in each category."
As a result, while the quantity of available shows has plunged, the quality has improved. Netflix plans to launch 600 hours of original programming this year, up from 450 hours in 2015 and 300 hours in 2014.
This tilt toward original shows, plus an exclusive movie output deal with Disney, will push content spending toward a record $5 billion this year.
In April, look for two big series launches under that initiative: an all-new comedy show called The Ranch premiering on April 1, and the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, hitting streaming servers on April 15.
Record quarterly results
Netflix will release first-quarter results after the market closes on April 18. Investors may remember that Netflix's Q1 announcement a year ago sparked the rally that ended up making it the the best-performing stock on the market in 2015.
In the year-ago period the company added 5 million users as hit original content including House of Cards, Unbreakable, and Bloodline made it much easier to obtain new subscribers and keep hold of existing ones.
This time around Netflix's management believes it will add 6 million new customers in Q1, with more than two-thirds of that growth coming from international markets.
That lopsided growth is a long-term trend that's worth following. Hastings has said that eventually the company's user base should mirror that of other global Internet giants that pull most of their business from outside of the U.S. Right now, 60% of Netflix's membership is in the U.S, with 40% located in international markets. Look for those percentages to gradually flip over the next few years.
Netflix investors are hoping that the company saw strong demand for its new content launches this past quarter. In Q1. Subscribers were treated to a fresh season of House of Cards, a new entry in the Marvel Daredevil series, and a Chelsea Handler special amid a flood of original shows and movies. "Just in a single quarter we're releasing more programming than most networks will in their whole year," Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told investors in January.
For the company to hit its aggressive 6 million new user target, Netflix will need that programming surge to spark a strong uptick in streaming hours, particularly in markets outside of the United States.