Netflix loses subscribers after it pulls out of Russia

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Netflix shares erased more than a third of their value Wednesday, a day after the streaming service reported its first quarterly loss in subscribers in a decade, a sign its foothold in the streaming wars may be crumbling.

The company shed a net 200,000 subscribers the first three months of the year, despite adding 500,000 worldwide. It lost 700,000 subscribers in Russia after it was pulled out of the country because of the invasion of Ukraine. But that loss is dovetailing with broader viewership declines as pandemic restrictions recede and consumers increasingly find other entertainment options, and the company expects to lose a further 2 million subscribers in the current quarter.

“Our revenue growth has slowed considerably,” Netflix acknowledged in the first line of its letter to shareholders. The massive streaming boost brought on by covid “obscured the picture until recently.”

The reaction on Wall Street was pointed out: Shares plunged 36.7 percent to trade near $ 220 at midday. But the stock was in steep decline even before Wednesday’s plunge, having fallen 40 percent for the year.

David Trainer, chief executive of investment research firm New Constructs, believes Netflix could go as low as $ 150 this year. He’s advising investors to cut their losses.

“Netflix was a pioneer in this space but the party is over,” Trainer said Wednesday in comments emailed to The Post.

While streaming rivals such as Disney and Paramount can monetize their content through other means, such as theme park and merchandise revenue, Netflix lacks those options. And it can “no longer rely on subscribers as its sole monetization source” Trainer said, “a metric that Wall Street was once obsessed with.”

Netflix still projects revenue will grow to nearly $ 8 billion in the current quarter, a 10 percent increase from the same time last year. The company also retains a paying audience of over 220 million, more than double what it had five years ago.

But the unexpected drop in paying viewers – the company had said in January it expected that group to increase by 2.5 million – reflects a steady slowdown in business. The company cited increased competition and a fizzling of the pandemic-triggered growth in paying viewers, which pushed more people toward at-home entertainment options.

“Netflix felt vulnerable yesterday in a way that it never has before,” analysts at LightShed Partners said Wednesday in comments emailed to The Post.

Despite its many acknowledgments, the company didn’t really address how its content, especially English-language content, is “simply not resonating” relative to the money Netflix is ​​throwing at it, according to comments by Richard Greenfield, Brandon Ross and Mark Kelley of LightShed. The company is spending $ 17 billion each year, more than any other player in the streaming wars.

The need for “better” content has become far more important as the level of competition has surged in the past two years. Having a volume of “good enough” content is no longer enough, ”the analysts said.

To address the slump, Netflix said it would seek to monetize the millions of nonpaying viewers who have benefited from account sharing. The company estimates that 100 million households, including more than 30 million in the United States and Canada, are sharing accounts.

“[Account sharing]”It’s not a new thing,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix co-chief executive, speaking to investors via video. “We’re working on how to monetize sharing,” he said. “Remember, these are 100 million households that are already choosing to watch Netflix. They love the service. We just got to get paid. ”

The company is experimenting with two paid sharing features in Chile, Costa Rica and Peru that are aimed at persuading existing account sharers to start paying small sums of up to $ 3.

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Hastings also acknowledged robust field of streaming rivals. “We got great competition. They’ve got some very good shows and movies, ”he said without naming rivals or movies. “What we got to do is take it up a notch.” In its letter, Netflix listed Disney Plus as one of the “traditional entertainment companies” to realize “streaming is the future.”

Over the long run, Netflix said it sees growth coming mostly from outside the United States. It will focus on producing content that “can be made anywhere and loved everywhere,” Netflix said, pointing to non-English-language hits produced outside the United States such as South Korea’s “Squid Game” and “All of Us Are Dead” and Spain’s “Money Heist.”

The company recorded $ 1.6 billion in net income during the January-March period, compared to $ 607 million reported in the preceding quarter, but a roughly 6 percent drop from last year’s first quarter. Its revenue was nearly $ 7.9 billion, a 10 percent jump from the same period last year.

Other streaming companies also saw their stocks slide Wednesday. Warner Bros.-Discovery shares declined 6 percent, while Walt Disney’s shares slid 4.2 percent. Paramount’s stock edged just 0.4 percent lower.

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