Can Netflix Keep Growing?

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Can Netflix Keep Growing?
Photo by David Balev on Unsplash

With more than 200 million subscribers and intense competition from the likes of Disney and HBO Max, can Netflix keep its big lead in the streaming wars?

Financially, Netflix has never been better off. It has forecast its cash flow to break even in 2021. If it does, that would eliminate, for the first time, the company's need to raise external financing for its day-to-day operations.

That's in part because the company raised its subscription price last year, by $1 for the standard option and $2 for premium, and still added a record 37 million new subscribers. But as the pandemic winds down and competition heats up, it's unclear whether it will be able to sustain the pace.

According to analytics firm JustWatch, Netflix's market share in the U.S. is already on the decline.

And the debt that has financed much of their enormous content library looms. In its most recent earnings report, the company's balance sheet showed nearly $8 billion due within one year, and an additional $20 billion further down the road. Flush with cash, however, it recently pledged to cut its debt load to a sustained level of $10 billion to $15 billion.

The question now is how Netflix can wind down that debt while simultaneously growing its revenues. Having already expanded to over 190 countries, there are few new markets to tap. Can Netflix squeeze more subscribers out of its current markets? Or might it continue looking to squeeze more out of existing subscribers' wallets?

At its earnings call on Tuesday, Netflix may offer some answers on how it plans to keep ahead of the pack. Analysts see the streamer, whose shares are trading near record-high levels, at a pivotal moment. Here is what some of them are expecting ahead of the first-quarter earnings call:

Shrinking Profitability in the Short-Term…

One reason why Netflix's financials were so strong last year is that the pandemic forced it to reduce spending on content production. Subscribers piled in anyway, and the company was able to make up for some of the shortfall by leaning into animation. But in the near-term, that slowdown may have consequences.

"We believe that the leaner content pipeline going into 2021 could very well influence subscriber growth," wrote Moody's analyst Neil Begley in his most recent note.

...But Long-Term Growth

Although Netflix is likely to increase the billions of dollars it already spends on making and buying shows and films, analysts still believe it's poised for profitability by next year.

"We know that the company has launched in every market, and that original content investment reached a tipping point in 2020," wrote Justin Patterson and Sergio Segura, analysts at KeyBanc Capital Markets, in their most recent Netflix note. "Even with healthy reinvestment in content, we believe this positions the company toward sustainable [free cash flow] generation beginning in 2022."

Moody's analysts also expect Netflix to continue adding subscribers over a longer period, projecting the streamer to hit 250 million subscribers globally by late 2022.

Higher Quality Programming

Most analysts think Netflix is likely to increase the quality of its programming.

Michael Pachter and Alicia Reese, analysts at Wedbush Securities, pointed to Netflix's recent licensing deal with Sony, which will give the streamer exclusive rights to Sony's films after their theatrical and home entertainment runs for five years, starting in 2022. Netflix will also get first-look rights on Sony's direct-to-streaming content, some of which it has pledged to produce.

"While the financial terms were not disclosed, it has been widely reported that Netflix will pay over $1 billion for the deal," they wrote in their most recent Netflix note. "This is meaningful for Netflix as many of its earlier exclusive licensing deals have expired, the content pulled back by studios such as Disney to shore up their competing streaming services."

Improving the quality of its content should allow Netflix to increase prices, KeyBanc analysts wrote. This past year's hikes didn't seem to repel customers, suggesting they may yet be willing to pay more, despite the many alternatives consumers now have.

But Maybe a Future Market Sell-Off?

Despite Netflix's strong 2020, Wedbush analysts called it overvalued and issued a price target of $340, nearly 40% below its current level.

"We have been consistently wrong about Netflix, but optimism about the company's potential to generate free cash flow growth of more than $1 billion per year [which, they note, is what the company's current valuation implies] seems to us to be misplaced," the note said.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom Vetoes California ‘BitLicense’ Bill To Regulate Crypto Exchanges

Steve Huff
Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
Gov. Gavin Newsom Vetoes California ‘BitLicense’ Bill To Regulate Crypto Exchanges
State Attorney Alleges Gov. Newsom Interfered in Activision Lawsuit

California isn’t getting its version of the New York BitLicense bill anytime soon after all. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill Friday.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tim Grayson out of Vallejo, passed by the state assembly in a 71-0 vote at the beginning of September. Like New York State’s 2015 BitLicense legislation, AB 2269 would have set out requirements for the behavior of crypto exchanges such as Coinbase or Binance. Additionally, California crypto exchanges would’ve been prevented from trafficking in stablecoins (cryptocurrencies pegged to the value of an asset like the Yen, dollar, or Euro) without a license to do so.

Gov. Newsom explained his veto in a Sept. 23 message to the Assembly. The governor stated that while he shared “the author's intent to protect Californians from potential financial harm,” his administration “has conducted extensive research and outreach to gather input on approaches that balance the benefits and risk to consumers, harmonize with federal rules, and incorporate California values such as equity, inclusivity, and environmental protection.”

“It is premature to lock a licensing structure in statute,” the statement continued, “without considering both this work and forthcoming federal actions.” Newsom said it’s necessary for the government to be flexible “to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.”

It’s refreshing that a government official knows how legislation connected to new technology can fall short as the tech evolves. Still, Gov. Newsom also pointed out that AB 2269 would’ve cost “tens of millions of dollars for the first several years” out of the state’s general fund—something unaccounted for in the state’s yearly budget.

Rep. Tim Grayson responded to Newsom’s action via tweet, writing in part that the crypto “market is under-regulated at best and deliberately rigged against everyday consumers at worst. A financial market cannot be considered healthy if there are no guardrails in place to protect consumers from scams & bad actors.”

California’s legislators haven’t been alone in examining ways to bring some discipline into the cryptocurrency wilderness. In 2022 alone, Oklahoma passed HB 3279, and Utah passed (and signed into law) SB 182—both bills intended to create regulatory schemes and give state agencies the power to control any business related to digital currency.

Additionally, the White House released a statement on Sept. 16 outlining a “Comprehensive Framework for Responsible Development of Digital Assets,” which was a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order from March 9, which was intended to ensure the responsible use of digital assets.

While Gov. Newsom’s veto means California is avoiding additional and possibly costly crypto regulations, for now, the tide nationwide seems to be turning in favor of putting rules in place to protect crypto investors. Given that in June, the Federal Trade Commission reported over $1 billion in losses to cryptocurrency scams since the beginning of 2021, some might say new regulations protecting consumers are overdue.