Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) has been on a tear the last few days. The stock has climbed since its earnings report was released on January 23, 2013. Sitting at just under $98 per share before the announcement the stock is now trading at almost $169 per share. Should investors sell at this point? Is there any value left in the stock? I believe there is still some value based on where the company is at in its strategic move to become a provider of original programming. The recent growth in the stock price was based in no small part on short sellers trying to save their position as well as the solid subscriber growth Netflix produced last quarter. Below, I will explain why Netflix’s potential as an original content provider is largely absent from its stock price.
Besides the recent announcement of a content deal with The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) deal there is more good news for Netflix from the content side of things. Netflix realized a few years ago that content providers were beginning to act stingier with their products. It was decided that the future of the company would lie with original programming. 2013 looks to put that strategy to the test as many Netflix original shows come online. Four new shows will be making premiers in 2013 with the most anticipated being House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Penn. The success of these programs will go a long way towards determining whether Netflix will continue to grow or become stuck in content-provider wars with other streaming services. I believe the company has some built in advantages to succeed in this arena.
First, unlike network broadcasts Netflix will not have to adhere to a fall or seasonal schedule. This will allow the company to be able to hire actors they desire regardless of schedules. There will be no need to attract advertisers and keep them happy. This has arguably been a major source of HBO’s original programming success and Netflix will be able to reap the benefits as well.
Also, just like HBO, quality programming can come first as opposed to simply trying to garner top ratings. Many quality shows have been cancelled by networks because of poor ratings before they could find a large audience and other shows with small, but dedicated audiences have been cancelled. Netflix is bringing back the comedy Arrested Development which has a substantial and dedicated following but failed to attract the ratings necessary to keep it on broadcast television.
Finally, you only have to look at HBO for proof that this model can be successful. I believe Netflix is already far ahead of HBO as its streaming service is far ahead of HBO’s. Production of original content will be much easier than signing up 35 million streaming subscribers.
With this strategy, how will Netflix translate its focus on original programming into increased revenue and profits? The goal here is not necessarily to increase subscribers per original show produced and aired. This is the network model. Netflix showed that this is not the reason behind its focus on original programming when it released the first 8 episodes of its original series Lilyhamer all at once. The goal is to stretch viewership out over a long period of time. Building up original content right now can pay off several years down the road as Netflix’s service can still offer viewers access to the programming. This will have the effect of greatly boosting margins in the future.
But you cannot ignore the numbers in analyzing Netflix going forward. House of Cards alone has cost the company $100 million. At roughly $8 a month for subscriptions, Netflix will need a little over 100,000 new yearly subscribers in order to break even on the show. While determining whether any particular subscriber signs up because of a particular show is difficult, there is a clear case for subscription growth based on good programming. HBO saw its subscriber base increase almost 20% during the run of The Sopranos. While it would be going overboard to predict that Netflix’s House of Cards or any other original show will be as popular as The Sopranos you can nevertheless conclude that original programming can significantly grow a company’s subscriber base.