April 16, 2019 / 8:12 PM / a month ago

Netflix forecast disappoints as streaming competition looms

(Reuters) - Netflix Inc gave a weak forecast on Tuesday that unnerved investors just as Walt Disney Co and others prepare to escalate Hollywood’s streaming video wars, although the company’s quarterly results beat Wall Street targets.

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is shown in this illustration photograph in Encinitas, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Shares of Netflix traded down about 1 percent at $355.02 in after-the-bell trading.

Netflix predicted it would pick up 5 million new streaming subscribers from April through June. That was below the 5.48 million consensus of industry analysts surveyed by FactSet.

“What’s making investors nervous is that there are signs of a slowdown in the second-quarter subscriber growth,” said Haris Anwar, senior analyst at Investing.com. “This is made all the more prominent by the looming threat of competition from Disney and Apple.”

Netflix added a record number of paid streaming customers in the first quarter, reaching a total of 148.86 million.

The just-ended first quarter included the debut of original dramas “Sex Education” and “Russian Doll,” and the company raised prices in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said it saw “some modest short-term churn effect,” or dropping of its service, in response to the price increases.

From January through March, Netflix reported it added 7.86 million paid subscribers internationally, compared with the average analyst estimate of 7.14 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company said it signed up 1.74 million paid subscribers in the United States in the quarter, above the average analyst estimate of about 1.57 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Netflix is spending billions to attract new customers while Disney and Apple Inc build streaming rivals and Amazon.com Inc makes gains with audiences.

“With a combined market cap of around $2.2 trillion, those three bruisers aren’t to be messed with,” Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst George Salmon said.

Disney is viewed as one of Netflix’s strongest rivals thanks to a broad portfolio of franchises popular with children - from Mickey Mouse to Marvel and Star Wars - and a brand trusted by parents. Last week, Disney priced its service at $7 per month, just over half the $13 price for Netflix’s most U.S. popular plan. The Disney+ service will launch in November.

“We don’t anticipate that these new entrants will materially affect our growth,” Netflix said, “because the transition from linear to on-demand entertainment is so massive and because of the different nature of our content offerings.”Disney is leading a shift among traditional media companies that had been selling programming to Netflix for years. Now, many have decided to keep their content for their own services. AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia and Comcast Corp plan to move into the streaming market.

Netflix spent $7.5 billion on TV shows and movies for 2018, and executives have said that amount will grow in 2019. The aggressive spending has led to a tripling of the company’s debt in two years, to $10.36 billion in 2018, from $3.36 billion in 2016.

For the first quarter, Netflix said its net income rose to $344.1 million, or 76 cents per share, from $290.1 million, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier. Analysts on average were expecting 57 cents per share.

Total revenue rose to $4.52 billion from $3.70 billion. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $4.50 billion.

Netflix shares had closed up 3 percent in regular Nasdaq trading on Tuesday ahead of the results.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Leslie Adler

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