Why Netflix doesn’t really need ‘The Office’

Posted at 11:38 AM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 15:34:07-04

Netflix will soon lose “The Office” from its streaming lineup and “Friends” could be gone in 2020. Those were the most popular shows on the platform last year.

Disney’s Marvel programs on Netflix have also run their course now that season 3 of “Jessica Jones” has wrapped up.

But Netflix investors don’t seem too worried about this content going away, judging by how well the stock has done this year. Shares are up nearly 45% so far in 2019.

Nor are they overly concerned about the looming threat from Disney+, Apple and the new WarnerMedia streaming service from CNN owner AT&T, as well as existing competition from Hulu and Amazon.

The company still has many hits of its own, including “Stranger Things” — whose third season will be available on July 4 — and “Orange Is The New Black,” which will release its seventh and final season later this month.

That’s a key reason why Wall Street thinks Netflix added 5.3 million subscribers in its just wrapped second quarter. Netflix will report second quarter earnings on July 17.

Analysts also estimate that Netflix will add 6.6 million more subscribers in the third quarter, and most of that growth will come from international markets.

Netflix has many hits of its own

It is true that Netflix subscribers watch a lot of shows that first ran on traditional broadcast or cable TV networks.

A Nielsen analysis of the top 20 shows streamed on Netflix in 2018 provided to CNN Business shows that after “The Office” and “Friends,” the other big hits on the platform are ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” the CBS procedural dramas “NCIS” and “Criminal Minds.” and Showtime’s “Shameless.” Nielsen tracked the number of minutes watched, not the number of viewers.

“We don’t comment on the accuracy of third-party data,” a spokesman for Netflix told CNN Business. The spokesperson added that Netflix focuses less on hours watched metrics because they skew towards older TV shows that have more seasons.

But Netflix also had several original shows in the top 20 rankings, including “Orange Is the New Black,” “Ozark,” “13 Reasons Why” and “The Ranch.”

The Nielsen data also showed solid streaming figures for Season 2 of “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” when they launched in late 2017. Season 3 of “The Crown” is expected to premiere sometime later in 2019.

Netflix also launched several new high-profile shows this year, including superhero series “The Umbrella Academy” and the dark comedies “Russian Doll” and “Dead to Me.”

If anything, consumers who are increasingly cutting the cable cord may find that they prefer instead to sign up to multiple streaming services.

After all, Netflix’s subscriber count has continued to mushroom even though some of the most buzz-worthy shows on TV can’t be found there.

Want to watch HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or “Westworld,” Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?” You can’t do so on Netflix.

So it seems like flawed logic to suggest that a Netflix subscriber will abandon their monthly plan just because “The Office” is going to get a new streaming home.

New revenue streams beyond streaming?

There is also incessant chatter on Wall Street about how Netflix could eventually launch an ad-based plan, even though Netflix has consistently denied that it will do so.

The most recent speculation was “wishful thinking from an advertising conference,” the Netflix spokesman told CNN Business Wednesday.

Still, Hulu has an ad-supported tier. Viacom bought Pluto TV, another streaming service that runs ads, earlier this year for $340 million. Anyone who watches Google-owned YouTube for free has to sit through ads as well.

If Netflix chose to eventually launch a free service with ads, it could generate more than $1 billion in sales a year, Mark Kelley, an analyst with Nomura Instinet, said in a recent report.

That would be incremental revenue that could help Netflix keep investing in new programming and reduce the company’s need to add on more debt, Kelley said.

But even if Netflix resists the urge to start showing commercials, Kelley said that product placement and licensing could also help the company generate new revenue and profits. The company already has two “Stranger Things” video games in the works.

The ‘smart money’ loves Netflix

Another factor in Netflix’s favor? Several high profile hedge fund investors are big fans of the stock.

Tiger Global, Point72, Third Point and Citadel all raised their stakes in or bought new positions of Netflix in the first quarter, according to Novus, a research firm that tracks the moves of prominent institutional investors.

Novus added that the overall percentage of Netflix shares owned by hedge funds rose in the first quarter — a notable departure from what was happening with other big tech companies.

The percentage of hedge fund ownership in Amazon, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook all declined in the first quarter.

It looks like Wall Street investors and Main Street consumers are sticking with Netflix even as the Hollywood streaming wars get ready to heat up further.