Massive subscriber growth for Netflix

Ernesto S. Ruscio  Getty Images for Netflix Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Ernesto S. Ruscio Getty Images for Netflix Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Most Wall Street analysts parrot the company's projection that it can grow from 130 million customers to 400 million subscribers, if not more.

"The question at the end of Q2 was whether that miss was an aberration or signs of a longer-term slowdown in the business", said Forrester Research analyst Jim Nail. It invests billions in original programming and uses those new TV shows and movies to lure subscribers. "The answer: an aberration, likely the results of a somewhat low volume of new content last quarter".

Netflix had told investors it expected to add about five million members in the quarter.

During the third quarter, however, Netflix added a record high of 676 hours of original programming, including new seasons of Ozark and Bojack Horseman as well as its first Indian original series, Sacred Games.

Of course, the quarter also attracted its share of controversy, including the debut of Insatiable, which earned accusations of fat-shaming. Netflix doesn't break out its users by market, with the exception of the USA, though most analysts agree that the U.K., Brazil, Canada and Mexico rank among the company's largest.

The media giant's Q2 earnings report left shareholders shaken and stirred as Netflix's forecasts were off by 1 million subscribers, a discrepancy the company blamed on its own internal forecasting.

Netflix has upended the economics of pay TV by offering customers thousands of programs on-demand for a monthly fee that's a fraction of the cost of a multichannel cable or satellite package.

"(Netflix) shies away from talking about any one global market too specifically, but it called out growth in Asia, and we believe India is becoming a bigger factor", said JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth.

Analysts had cut their price targets for Netflix shares ahead of its earnings report, citing a combination of the strength of the dollar, rising expenses and interest rates. Netflix's financial standing, of course, falls far short of that of Walt Disney Co., CBS Corp. and the like, given that its strategy is to keep borrowing money to buy or create new content. Revenue expanded 2.4 percent, to $4 billion.

"We don't believe in 'open-ended growth stories.' But, darn, (Netflix) is about as close to one as you can find in today's market", RBC analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note. Net income came in at 89 cents per share, beating Wall Street's number by 21 cents a share.

Netflix plans to spend about US$8 billion on programming this year.

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