SARAH BUITENDACH: Streaming through a pandemic — why Netflix can’t seem to lose
We might not be talking ‘Jeff Bezos is now richer than the world’ levels of Amazon success just yet, but there’s no getting around the fact that Netflix has been one of the big winners from Covid-19
Here’s your weird fact for the week: at the end of 2019, Netflix still had over 2-million subscribers to its DVD delivery service.
It’s bizarre, I know. In a world where over 190-million global customers think nothing of logging onto Netflix’s streaming facility to catch up on Schitt’s Creek or Narcos, there are still Americans who use the brand as it started out — to get DVDs delivered. It’s apparently especially popular in areas where connectivity is bad.
Can you imagine DVDs coming in the post in SA, in a world of Wi-Fi?
I love Netflix. And so do market traders. Like the rest of the FAANG group – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) – the streaming company is a real punters’ pet. The internet is a constant, erm, stream of speculation and rehashing of the California-based outfit’s performance and future outlook.
We might not be talking “Jeff Bezos is now richer than the world” levels of Amazon success just yet, but there’s no getting around the fact that Netflix has been one of the big winners from Covid-19.
Back in 2017, Netflix made just $485m in profit. By 2019, this had risen to $2.06bn. For this year, analysts are expecting its sales to have grown by 20%, and its profit to clock in north of $3.3bn.
It makes sense. We’ve all been housebound for months, and for solace and relief turned to our TV and laptops. And hours of Tiger King. Netflix subscriptions rocketed in the early months of the pandemic, and so has the amount of content it provides. Lots of it commissioned by and produced specially for it.
It’s clearly working: on Tuesday, Netflix broke the record for the most number of Emmy Award nominations ever, 160, for shows including The Crown, Dead to Me and The Kominsky Method.
But, as Netflix said in a letter to investors last week, “our big move into the production of Netflix originals requires more cash upfront”. This is why, even though profits are rising, Netflix is still binging through its cash like a belated convert to Game of Thrones.
Now that the malaise of Covid seems to be marginally abating abroad and people are out and about, US subscriptions have slowed a smidgen. And the share price has fallen slightly. But don’t be fooled: Netflix’s price has risen 51% this year — so you can see why it’d be so popular.
Will new, growing markets — like, say, SA — mitigate falling subscription numbers at home, and the massive investment into content? Especially when everyone else, including Disney+, thinks it’s now a streaming service?
Getting some couch action
If that’s not your bag, maybe actually watching some of its content is. One of the real game-changers that Netflix introduced is the binge: you can sit down and consume an entire series in one go. There’s unmitigated healing power in losing yourself to hours of The Witcher, or whatever you fancy. Remember in the stone ages, when we had to wait a week for the next instalment of The West Wing? What arduous lives we once led.
My picks, if you need any suggestions, are all of the documentary persuasion — and though real, offer some nice respite from endless Covid talk.
For utterly addictive viewing, there’s Indian Matchmaking. It revolves around one of Mumbai’s top matchmakers as she goes about the daily business of playing marital fixer to the city’s ultra-rich, and some US singles too.
I was mesmerised by this fascinating, sometimes crazy and bizarrely anthropological offering, but I felt the same about Fear City: New York vs The Mafia. It’s only three episodes, but it documents the fight by the FBI to save New York from the Mob in the early 1980s when the city was a cesspit of dodgy deals, cartels and crime. Who pops up? Why, Donald Trump of course.
But then, Trump also makes an appearance in Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which details the story of the millionaire creep and criminal. It’s skin-crawling stuff, and reminds you of the power that comes with big money.
The FBI does not come out as well from the Epstein saga as it does in the fight for the Big Apple. But luckily, the US authorities have since nabbed Epstein’s sidekick, heiress Ghislaine Maxwell, so the motions are in place for justice, the big reveal of who else was involved (shout out to England’s Prince Andrew), and hopefully, where we Netflixers are concerned, a sequel.
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