THE LEX COLUMN: Netflix debt is more than the books show
Media services provider is being pushed to create original programmes in local markets, which comes at a price
Netflix has put down a far bigger bet for viewer attention than its balance sheet might suggest. The streaming service is already notorious for financing rapid growth with debt. Prestige Oscar-nominated films and Friends reruns do not come cheap. At the end of 2018, long-term debt exceeded $10bn. But this debt is not the whole story. Netflix has agreed to pay $19.3bn for television shows and films it wants to stream in future. There are also agreements that have not yet been priced — so-called unknown obligations. These could add up to $5bn over the next three years. All told, Netflix is on the hook for some $24bn. Given that the company is free cash flow negative and expects to remain so in the foreseeable future, that suggests it will need to raise more debt soon. The rise in content obligations is a neat illustration of Netflix’s new business model: a shift from content aggregator to content creator and expansion overseas. New markets want their own content and rivals are moving ...