Netflix will have to overcome several obstacles before it can become a global video power. But execs appeared sanguine about the strategy in a conference call to discuss Q4 earnings, and expectations.
“I think we have only scratched the surface,” CEO Reed Hastings said — supporting a key theme Wall Street supporters use against the claim that Netflix’s stock isn’t overpriced after appreciating about 124% over the last year. “We have tremendous potential growth ahead of us, if we can continue to execute.”
Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos is on board. All of the company’s original shows are “fully global,” he says, meaning that they go live simultaneously around the world. In this quarter alone “we’ll release more programming than most networks do in an entire year.”
He adds that “the art of this is to do something that doesn’t feel homogenized for the world.”
Since so many Netflix originals are still in English, Hastings says that it’s “starting off appealing to elites…You can think of (initial subscribers) as a shorthand as iPhone owners.”
China is the biggest missing piece in the Netflix global effort. Here, too, Hastings says no worries: “This could be many years of discussions or it could happen faster than that.” It took years for Apple to get iPhone into China and it’s now a “very large business….We’re in no hurry.”
He also seems unfazed by possible government censorship there. HBO’s Game Of Thrones “had 10 or 15 minutes from many episodes cut from it….We’ll be on a level playing field with other services.”
The domestic story is becoming more complicated.
Netflix in Q4 fell short of its forecast for subscriber growth. “The next 50 million are harder [to sign up] than the first 50 million,” CFO David Wells says. “It’s the law of large numbers.”
Execs add that they don’t worry about Time Warner and Fox’s warnings that they may syndicate fewer shows to Netflix as its original programs make it more of a competitor to their cable networks.
Although there’s been “a lot of rhetoric” about the issue, “people license their programming to the highest bidder,” Sarandos says.
To that end, he urged people not to make too much of reports that Netflix might lose previous-season programming from CW this year when its deal with the network expires.
A renewal is “in the process of negotiation,” Sarandos says. “It’s not behind [schedule]…There’s a time-honored tradition of negotiating in the press.”
The content chief also took another swipe at NBC for challenging Netflix’s refusal to offer traditional ratings for its original series.
“It might be putting up a shiny object to reflect on Netflix instead of talking about what’s going on at their own networks,” Sarandos says. The people who work on Netflix shows are “happy not to focus” on ratings.
Meanwhile, Hastings had kind words for two distributors who sometimes find themselves attacked by net neutrality supporters.
He endorsed T-Mobile’s controversial BingeOn program which provides unlimited streaming for some video content — including Netflix’s. That doesn’t violate net neutrality principals, the CEO says, because T-Mobile isn’t charging providers, and just gives “the customer some optionality.”
He also reiterated his support, offered in July, for Charter Communications’ planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable.
That would be “a tremendous positive for the [streaming video] industry,” Hastings says because Charter agreed to “strong” net neutralilty protocols that enable providers to “compete on an open basis.”