In their quarterly video conference moderated by a single Wall Street analyst — in this case, Todd Juenger of Sanford Bernstein — Netflix execs shrugged off the company’s disappointing second-quarter results.
“The fundamentals have never been stronger,” CEO Reed Hastings said, citing record levels of viewing and positive trends in many global territories. “We’re feeling very strongly about the business.” He added that the dip in the second quarter was unrelated to price increases in recent months, and is not unprecedented. “We’ve seen this movie before of a Q2 shortfall, two years ago. We never did find an explanation to that, other than there’s some lumpiness in the business, and we continued to perform after that.
CFO David Wells said the results would not cause any kind of reassessment of internal forecasting or fiscal management. “Long-term, nothing’s really changed,” he said, emphasizing the company’s focus on 12-month rolling results, which he described as healthy despite the quarterly dip.
Asked about threats posed by rivals, especially in an industry obsessed with M&A lately, the exec team seemed sanguine. “There’s a lot of new and strengthening competition, with Disney coming to market and HBO getting additional funding and the different French broadcasters coming together. That’s all normal and expected,” Hastings said. “It is what it is and we’re not going to be able to change it. Our focus is on doing the best content we’ve ever done, having the best user interface, the best recommendations, the best marketing.”
Content chief Ted Sarandos added, “With our programming, we’ve always been focused on keeping people happy and entertained on an absolute basis, not relative to any competitor. By keeping an eye on our members and our customers, we’re better served than by hyper-focusing on competition.”
Three hours after the stock market closed, Netflix shares continued to sell off in after-market trading. The drop hovered at around 14%, with many analysts and press accounts immediately seizing on the notion that investors had finally developed a fear of heights. After the stock had more than doubled in value in 2018, some felt it was time to “hit the pause button,” in the words of UBS analyst Eric Sheridan, who recently downgraded the stock to neutral due to concerns about overextension and programming softness detected by a UBS consumer survey.
Little of the commentary in the video interview is likely to change all that many minds, with bulls continuing to accept management’s view of any setbacks as temporary blips and bears seeing the beginning of a decline. (With Netflix, ’twas ever thus.) Likewise, the Hollywood community won’t find a lot to chew on in the call, whose format helped them downplay the subscriber miss and not have to face a chorus of skeptical voices. Sarandos continued to strike familiar notes about the streaming service’s move into reality fare and more ambitious feature films.
He said Shonda Rhimes has officially set up shop at Netflix HQ as her massive overhead deal takes effect. The first two shows under the deal are taking shape, he said, without offering any details.
Ryan Murphy is wrapping up his work for Fox before becoming a pure Netflix supplier. As to any other potential candidates for nine-figure sainthood, Sarandos observed, “It’s a pretty rare creator who has an ownable sensibility.”