Netflix hurt by fleeing subscribers
The company lost more customers than expected after it announced pricing changes and a plan to split operations.
The number came in Monday, and it was big: 800,000.
That's how many subscribers Netflix (NFLX) lost in three months. And that's a big reason its shares were plummeting Tuesday even though the company posted a pretty decent quarter.
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Shares were down more than 35% in early trading to $76.21. The stock had closed up 1.5% Monday in anticipation of the company's quarterly earnings report.
The quarter itself wasn't bad. Netflix easily beat estimates on profit and revenue, earning $62.5 million, or $1.16 a share, on sales of $822 million. Analysts had expected a profit of 94 to 96 cents a share and sales of about $812 million.
But no one was looking at the top- and bottom-line numbers Monday afternoon. The big shockers were the forecasts for the current quarter and the higher-than-expected number of cancellations that Netflix says were caused by the "PR storm that engulfed our brand."
PR storm? Maybe. Or perhaps it was the double whammy of separating the streaming and DVD operations and raising the combined price for both services. At any rate, customers were furious and dropped more subscriptions than the company expected.
Netflix had 23.8 million U.S. subscribers at the end of September, down from 24.6 million three months earlier. Analysts had expected about 24 million subscribers -- about what Netflix projected in September.
And that's not the worst of it. Netflix thinks it will continue to bleed subscribers in the current quarter. It said its streaming customers could drop to 20 million (from 21.5 million) and its DVD subscribers could drop to 10.3 million to 11.3 million (from 13.9 million).
That means Netflix will likely miss the target of 24.9 million subscribers that analysts had expected for the current quarter.
So many subscribers canceled that Netflix said its revenue and profit for the current quarter will be lower than it had anticipated. Fourth-quarter profit was forecast at between $19 million to $37 million, or 36 to 70 cents a share, on revenue of as much as $875 million. Analysts had expected a much higher profit of $1.10 a share on revenue of $919 million, Bloomberg reported.
"We greatly upset many domestic Netflix members with our significant DVD-related pricing changes and, to a lesser degree, with the proposed and now cancelled rebranding of our DVD service," the company said in a letter to shareholders. "In doing so, we've hurt our hard-earned reputation and stalled our domestic growth."
Another potential red flag for investors: Netflix says that it has been "aggressively" increasing its spending on content and that spending next year will nearly double what the company has already spent this year. That will put Netflix almost at par with what HBO spends in the U.S., the company said.
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