In a letter to shareholders on Wednesday, Netflix announced it had another "outstanding" quarter, and it has the numbers to back that claim.
Let's start with the subscriber base. There are now 20.1 million movie and TV buffs forking over greenbacks to Netflix every month, over 3 million of which were added in the fourth quarter. By comparison, Netflix added 1.93 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2010, 1.03 million in the second quarter, and 1.70 million in the first.
Revenue reached $596 million, a 34 percent year-over-year increase, and more than 60 percent higher than the $360 million in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2008.
"To summarize Q4, we would say that our huge subscriber growth, fueled by the excitement of watching instantly, impressed even us," Netflix said. "More subscriber growth enables us to spend more on streaming content, making the Netflix service seven better in 2011."
Where Netflix goes from here is anyone's guess, but it promises to be an interesting journey. Netflix hasn't been shy in saying that it's now primarily a streaming a service, and one of the challenges will be to continue to add new content without jacking prices up.
Amazon today said it reached an agreement to acquire the remaining shares in LoveFilm International Limited, a European DVD-by-mail subscription service very similar to Netflix.
"The deal is a winner for the members who love LoveFilm because of its value, choice, convenience, and innovation in home entertainment," said Simon Calver, Chief Executive of LoveFilm. "With Amazon's unequivocal support we can significantly enhance our members' experience across Europe."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though TechCrunch claims to "have it on good authority that LoveFilm was valued at around $312 million for the purposes of the acquisition." Amazon already owned a 42 percent stake in LoveFilm before going all in by scooping up the remaining 58 percent.
In addition to DVD-by-mail rentals, LoveFilm also offers a streaming service accessible via PCs, PlayStation 3 consoles, and some HDTVs. It will be interesting to see what Amazon does with this acquisition, and how it will affect Netflix's plans to march into Europe.
There's a new firmware revision available for Boxee Box owners that finally adds Vudu support, which Boxee has been promising since late 2010.
"Vudu on the Boxee Box means: access to the largest selection of HD movies on-demand, new releases (same day as DVD), thousands of movies available for rental at $2 for 2 nights (in standard definition). We are psyched," Boxee's Avner Ronen wrote in a blog post.
To celebrate the occasion, Vudu is offering every new user who signs up on the Boxee Box a $5.99 credit towards a first rental or purchase. If you own a Boxee Box, you should have received the update by now, but if not you can force the issue by heading to Settings > System > Update.
The latest firmware release also adds a boatload of enhancements and bug fixes, but still no Netflix. Not to worry, Boxee says it's "still on track for a release later this month."
There's a rather interesting article in The Hollywood Reporter that takes an in depth look at Netflix and the impact its fast growing streaming service is having on the industry. One of the points the article touches on is the feasibility of going after content providers like HBO.
"HBO believes in content exclusivity, especially for high-value content," says Jeff Cusson, the channel’s senior VP of corporate affairs. "That’s our rationale for not selling streaming rights to a competing subscription service." HBO does license its shows to iTunes and Amazon, but indicated it has “no intention of making its content available for streaming on Netflix."
Citing a high-placed Time Warner executive, The Hollywood Reporter says Netflix would have to raise the price of its streaming-only service from $7.99 a month to $20 to make it worthwhile. Not so fast, says Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix.
"They make an incredibly great product that is very expensive to produce," Sarandos says. "But we're buyers and they're sellers, so we'll figure out a deal that makes sense. If we don't, then the service doesn't have everything, and that's OK too."
Some of what Netflix does pay for content rights may surprise you. Starz, one of the first to jump on board, inked a deal some analyst say is in the neighborhood of $30 million (that figures to increase to anywhere from $100 million to $300 million before the end of 2011), while it's believed Netflix is paying $150 million to $200 million for a year's worth of Disney content. You can see how it all starts to add up as Netflix adds more providers to the mix.
So here's the question: How much would you be willing to pay for a streaming subscription, and what would have to be included to justify that ceiling price?
Over at Digital Society they have done a little math based on recent statements from Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. The numbers they looked at tell us how much Netflix spends to get video content in front of your eyeballs. It turns out, that it costs the company 20 times more to mail you a disc, than it costs to stream the content to you. No wonder they're pushing for a streaming-only model.
Netflix is currently spending about $1 round trip to mail you a DVD movie. Streaming that same content to your connected device only cists them 5 cents in bandwidth. With over 2 million discs going out each year, that comes out to about $700 million spent every year on postage. This is why the higher license fees for streaming content make sense for Netflix. The cost of delivering the content is so much lower, the company can still make a killing.
We understand that the streaming options are less than perfect much of the time, but Netflix seems to be working to change that. With numbers like these, we expect they are trying very, very hard.
Netflix has made no secret of its intention to be primarily a streaming company. Although, much of the content out there is only available in disc form. Netflix's recent decision to limit the ways customers can add those discs to their queue has caused quite an uproar. Users can no longer use connected streaming devices, like the PS3 or iPad, to add items to their DVD queue. These are now streaming only devices with no ability to manage the DVD queue.
Many users who commented on the Netflix blog post about the change accused the company of moving to dismantle their disc rental business in favor of streaming. It does fit with the recent addition of streaming-only plans, and the increase in price of disc rental plans. The change in queue management may have also been done in part because the new streaming-only users don't even have disc queues to manage.
Netflix for its part said, "We’re doing this so we can concentrate on offering you the titles that are available to watch instantly. Further, providing the option to add a DVD to your Queue from a streaming device complicates the instant watching experience and ties up resources that are better used to improve the overall streaming functionality." While that may be true, we have a hard time believing this isn't also another step in phasing out discs.
You have to really put a lot of effort into setting up a home theater without some form of Netflix integration, even if you're not an account holder. Netflix, now primarily a streaming service, has muscled its way onto a plethora of home entertainment devices, including gaming consoles, set-top boxes, televisions, Blu-ray players, and more. The only thing missing at this point is a dedicated button on your remote control.
That won't be the case for long. Announced at CES, Netflix said it's working with hardware manufacturers to implement a red button sporting the iconic logo on remote controls for "certain new Blu-ray disc players from a vareity of companies including Best Buy's in-house Dynex brand, Haier, Memorex, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba."
In addition, Netflix says Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba will also place a Netflix button on select Internet-connected TVs. The button will offer one-click access to Netflix and underscores just how big the company has grown in the streaming media sector.
We suppose technically the inability to search through the Netflix streaming catalog on Google TV isn't a flaw, but to us it is. Thankfully we can stop bitching about it now that Google addressed that annoying shortcoming with its first Google TV update since rolling out the platform two months ago, the search giant announced in a blog post.
In addition to search functionality, Google TV viewers can add titles to their DVD queue. In other words, the Netflix app is no longer woefully (and inexplicably) behind the curve, finally catching up to how it's implemented on other home theater devices.
The update also includes a Dual View feature allowing you to watch TV and browse the Web at the same time. As Google explains, maybe you want to "watch Conan while tweeting about him on Twitter," and now you can. There's a remote control app for Android phones with integrated voice search available for download (see video below), and finally the update installs a new movie results page that shows all films associated with the title.
Roku recently rolled out new firmware -- version 2.9 b1509 -- for all models of its popular Roku player. The updated software introduces a handful of changes, including:
1080p support for XR units
Hulu app optimizations for quicker trick play navigation and start of playback
Improved Hulu playback performance on networks with higher latency
The update also addresses a handful of bugs and quirks. For example, Roku says installing the software fixes "a subtle audio playback issue in UFC streaming," and it also squashes a bug that could result in a crash if an app tried to load an image greater than 1280x720.
In a recent New York Times Interview with Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, the subject of Netflix came up. Bewkes held firm to the assertion that Netflix is actually a very small player with no power to affect the industry. He compared the disc rental and streaming company to the Albanian military, strangely. "It’s a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world?" Bewkes quipped. "I don’t think so."
The Time Warner chief continued to rail against Netflix claiming they had undermined the video rental industry. We would have to agree with that, considering the state of Blockbuster. Still, Bewkes maintained that Time Warner did not know Netflix would cause consumers to shift away from purchasing and renting from brick and mortar stores. We're struck by how well Mr. Bewkes manages to lay out Netflix's notable impact, while at the same time saying they are not significant in the market.
All this comes back to the Starz deal that allows Neflix to stream many newer releases. Time Warner owns Starz, and Bewkes insinuated they might not renew the deal when it expires in a few years. Whether or not production companies see Netflix as a major player, the service is winning over consumers. When the Starz deal, expires, content companies might have no choice but to deal with the juggernaut that is Netflix. Some, like Bewkes, have demanded that Netflix charge more to better support content licenses. How much would you pay for Netflix streaming, assuming more licensing deals came through?