Netflix’s great day continues. After inking a $5 billion deal with the WWE for its first major bit of live programming, the streamer had a home-run quarter, adding 13 million subscribers, bringing its total to 260 million worldwide.
On its year-end earnings call Tuesday, Netflix reported booming numbers for its final quarter, making for a promising start to 2024. Revenues were up 12.5% to $8.8 billion and net income was up 160% to $938 million for the fourth quarter of 2023, and Netflix finished the year with $33.7 billion in revenue, up 6.7%, with a 20.4% increase in profits bringing the year end total to $5.4 billion.
These numbers smashed analyst estimates for financial performance, and investors cheered it on with an 8.6% increase in the stock price in post-trading hours.
Winning the streaming wars after the Hollywood strikes
The standout results come after Netflix and Hollywood came to a standstill during dual writers’ and actors’ strikes last summer. Netflix emerged from that upheaval even better positioned than it already had been in the cutthroat streaming industry. Its studio competitors had floundered during the strikes, with smaller international slates to lean on during the production freezes. Netflix took a victory lap in its earnings release, saying it had proven streaming could be a “very healthy business.”
Many competitors have reversed their previous policy of not licensing content to Netflix since the strikes ended. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos welcomed the change, touting Netflix’s broad reach and recommendation algorithm as a means to reach new audiences and turn old shows into new hits, a phenomenon was best exemplified when the USA Network drama Suits became a smash hit on Netlfix, years after it first aired.
“Sometimes we can uniquely add more value to the studio’s IP than they can,” Sarandos said. “Not all the time, but sometimes, we’re the best buyer for it.”
Sarandos hoped he could continue to make such deals with studios. “I’m thrilled the studios are more open to licensing again, and I’m thrilled to tell them we are open for business,” he said.
While legacy competitors like Disney, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Discovery might face a volatile landscape, as mergers and consolidation beckon, Netflix was happy to stay above the fray.
“It’s logical to expect further consolidation, particularly among companies with large and declining linear networks,” the company said in an investor letter, rubbing salt in the wound.
It also shed any rumors of the acquisition of a major linear asset, which some legacy media companies are rumored to be interested in selling.
“We’re not interested in acquiring linear assets. Nor do we believe that further M&A among traditional entertainment companies will materially change the competitive environment given all the consolidation that has already happened over the last decade.”
Although Netflix did say it expects competition to remain fierce as streamers, both new and old, compete for content and subscribers.
While the company didn’t provide specific numbers, it said much of its subscriber growth was down to the password sharing crackdown it began implementing in March. If a user wants to share their account with someone, they are now required to pay an additional $7.99 a month on top of their regular subscription fee. Netflix said it now considers the program a normal part of its business that would yield dividends for the foreseeable future.
Limiting password sharing is about “finding the most effective way to convert folks who are using the service, [with] the right call to action, the right nudge, at the right time,” Netflix co-CEO Greg Peters said on the earnings call. “Those might have been historical borrowers or folks that are new to the service as well. We’re going to continue to improve. That will continue to improve our growth for years ahead. Not just 2024.”
The other big development in Netflix’s business has been the growth of its ad-supported tier. Netflix’s head of advertising Amy Reinhard recently said the company had 23 million subscribers to its version with ads. That was a 70% increase compared to the prior quarter, the company said, with 40% of all new subscribers in the 12 markets where it has an ad tier having signed up for the service.
On the call, Peters said line of business was still growing. “We’ve got years of work ahead of us to take the ads business to the point where it’s a material impact or to our general business.”