Netflix's View: streaming entertainment is replacing linear TV

People love movies and TV shows, but they don't love the linear TV experience, where channels present programs only at particular times on non-portable screens with complicated remote controls. Now streaming entertainment - which is on-demand, personalized, and available on any screen - is replacing linear TV.

Changes of this magnitude are rare. Radio was the dominant home entertainment media for nearly 50 years until linear TV took over in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Linear video in the home was a huge advance over radio, and very large firms emerged to meet consumer desires over the last 60 years. The new era of streaming entertainment, which began in the mid-2000’s, is likely to be very big and enduring also, given the flexibility and ubiquity of the internet around the world. We hope to continue being one of the leading firms of the streaming entertainment era.

Streaming Entertainment Apps

The world's leading linear TV networks now offer their programming on-demand through apps that run on phones and smart TVs. These apps, such as Disney+, CBS All Access, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Now, enable binge viewing and catch-up viewing. Existing linear networks that offer compelling internet apps will generate more viewing and become more valuable. Those networks that fail to develop first-class apps will lose viewing and revenue.

Streaming entertainment is expanding rapidly because of:

  • Ecosystem Growth: The internet is getting faster and more reliable, while penetration of connected devices, like smart TVs and smart phones is also rising
  • Freedom and Flexibility: Consumers can watch content on demand, on any screen, and the experience is personalized to individual tastes
  • Rapid Innovation: streaming entertainment apps have frequent improvement updates and streaming is the primary source of UHD 4K video content.

Eventually, as linear TV viewing falls in viewing and value, the spectrum it now uses on cable, fiber, and over-the-air will be reallocated to expand internet data transmission. Satellite TV subscribers will be fewer and more rural. In a few decades, linear TV will be the fixed-line telephone: no longer mainstream.

Content People Love

People's tastes are very broad, even in a single market. The internet allows us to offer a wide variety, and to have our user interface quickly learn and make recommendations based upon individual users' tastes. Those members who love action blockbusters, Korean soaps, anime, sci-fi, Sundance films, zombie shows, or kids cartoons will find that Netflix fills their homepage with relevant and interesting titles.

Since 2013, we've been at a scale where we can economically create original content for Netflix and our offering has improved as we grow further and gain greater confidence. With each original, we learn more about what our members want, about how to produce and promote effectively, and about the positive impact of originals on our brand.

We believe we have a major advantage over our linear competitors when it comes to launching a series or a film. Linear networks need to attract an audience on a given night at a given time and movie theaters need to maximize attendance for a finite number of screens. We can be much more flexible. Because each show on Netflix is not competing for scarce prime-time slots like on linear TV, a show that is taking a long time to find its audience is one we can keep nurturing. This allows us to prudently commit to a whole season, rather than just a pilot episode. In addition, we are able to provide a platform for more creative storytelling (varying run times per episode based on storyline, no need for week-to-week recaps, no fixed notion of what constitutes a "season"). We believe this makes it easier for us to attract creative talent.

By personalizing promotion of the right content to the right member, we have a large opportunity to promote our original content, one that's effectively unlimited in duration. Long after the premiere of season one of House of Cards, large numbers of members are still starting the series.

We are making great headway with our slate of original series, which is a rapidly growing proportion of our spending. Any linear network would be proud to show them. Our success is due in part to great creative execution by our team as well as the power of our large on-demand service.

Netflix Focus

Netflix is a global streaming entertainment service offering movies and TV series commercial-free, with unlimited viewing on any internet-connected screen for an affordable, no-commitment monthly fee. Netflix is a focused passion brand, not a do-everything brand: Starbucks, not 7-Eleven; Southwest, not United; HBO, not Dish.

We don't offer pay-per-view or free ad-supported content. Those are fine business models that other firms do well. We are about flat-fee unlimited viewing commercial-free.

We are not a generic "video" company that streams all types of video such as news, user-generated, sports, porn, music video, gaming, and reality. We are a movie and TV series entertainment network.

We are a relief from the complexity and frustration that embody most MVPD relationships with their customers. We strive to be extremely straightforward. There is no better example of this than our no-hassle online cancellation. Members can leave when they want and come back when they want.

We are about the freedom of on-demand and the fun of binge viewing. We are about the flexibility of any screen at any time. We are about a personal experience that finds for each person the most pleasing titles from around the world.

Competition

We compete for a share of members' time and spending for relaxation and stimulation, against linear networks, pay-per-view content, DVD watching, other internet networks, video gaming, web browsing, magazine reading, video piracy, and much more. Over the coming years, most of these forms of entertainment will improve.

If you think of your own behavior any evening or weekend in the last month when you did not watch Netflix, you will understand how broad and vigorous our competition is.

We strive to win more of our members' "moments of truth". Those decision points are, say, at 7:15 pm when a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is bored. The member could choose Netflix, or a multitude of other options.

Because the entertainment market is so broad, multiple firms can be successful. For example, ABC and NBC have historically competed for viewers, attention and content but have also successfully co-existed for many decades. Similarly, in the streaming entertainment world, HBO is now growing faster than in years past, while our business is also expanding. Many people will subscribe to both HBO and Netflix since we have different exclusive content. The transition to streaming entertainment, with its greater consumer satisfaction, will mean growth for many services.

Video piracy is a substantial competitor for entertainment time in many international markets. It is free and offers very broad selection. Were video piracy to become easy, reliable, and socially acceptable, it could become our largest competitor. Great inexpensive services like Netflix will hopefully help insulate video from piracy.

ISP & MVPD relationships

ISP subscribers pay for internet access and expect to be able to enjoy streaming entertainment such as Netflix. Our Open Connect program supports hundreds of large and small ISPs to directly interconnect with the Netflix network for free in regional locations, rather than going through third-party transit providers, which lowers both our costs and that of the ISPs.

Sometimes, large ISPs want to use their market power to extract interconnect fees from us and others. We fight for free interconnection, where neither side charges the other, as we think Netflix and consumers are best served by strong network neutrality. We have made good progress in these battles, and they are usually country and ISP specific. We don't intend to try to collect a percentage of broadband revenue from ISPs, despite the fact that we are a substantial portion of what consumers do with their internet connection, and that this payment would parallel the payments to basic cable networks. Strong net neutrality, where payments are neutral between ISPs and content providers, is better for supporting amazing innovation for consumer benefit.

With MVPDs that have an internet-capable TV set top device, such as DISH and Comcast (USA), Virgin (UK), Telus (Canada), Orange and Free (France), Liberty Global and Sky (across Europe) and many others, we offer integrated viewing experiences (and in many cases integrated billing) which increase the use of the operator set top device. Most MVPDs prefer that our growth happen through their remote control and set top experience.

Netflix margin structure and growth

We think we can grow to 60-90 million members in the US, based upon our trajectory to date and the continued growth of streaming entertainment. Our operating margin structure is set mostly top down. For any given future period, we estimate revenue, and decide what we want to spend, and how much margin we want in that period. Competitive pressures in bidding for content would lead us to have slightly less content than we would otherwise, rather than overspending. The same is true for our marketing budget. The output variable is membership growth that those spending choices influence.

We are targeting a 13% operating margin in 2019 and plan to steadily increase operating profit and margin from there as we balance growth with profitability.

With our rapid increase in content spending, and our growing emphasis on owned original productions, cash outlays are initially greater than content amortization, constraining free cash flow relative to profitability. We have generally funded these cash pre-pay needs with debt. We amortize content as quickly as justified, given industry norms and viewing history.

Global

Netflix is available virtually everywhere except in China. Our growth internationally will unfold over many years as we improve our service. In the 130+ new markets we launched in 2016, we started by primarily targeting outward-looking, affluent consumers with international credit cards and smartphones. As with every market we’ve launched, our approach is to listen, learn and improve rapidly, adding more content, languages and a better Netflix experience over time to delight members.

We understand that awareness of Netflix in these new markets is mixed and that there are cultural differences and some variances in content tastes around the world. There are also challenges with the broadband and payment infrastructures in certain countries. But we also believe in the growing ubiquity of the internet and rapid technological progress and that great, high-quality storytelling has universal appeal that transcends borders.

That’s why we are increasingly licensing and producing content all across the globe and Netflix members everywhere in the world can increasingly enjoy the same movies and TV series at the same time, free of legacy business models and outdated restrictions. In addition, we are developing a growing number of non-English language originals from places such as Mexico, France, Italy, Japan and Brazil. With our global distribution, Netflix is well positioned to bring engaging stories from many cultures to people all across the globe.

As Netflix expands globally, we understand that consumers and governments' expectations will rise. We expect to meet those expectations and work with policymakers to ensure that the old policies that applied to linear TV are not reflexively applied to streaming entertainment.

Conclusion

We started in 1997 as a DVD-rental-by-mail firm, and spent the first five years struggling to get to a sustainable model that was cash flow positive. We spent most of the next five years fighting with Blockbuster in the US. We began streaming in the US in 2007, and internationally in 2010. Our sobering Qwikster DVD misstep was in 2011. Our first original series debuted in 2013. We became global in 2016, nearly twenty years after starting Netflix. Over the following decades, streaming entertainment will replace linear TV, and we hope to keep leading by offering an amazing entertainment experience.

[Updated November 12, 2019]

This document contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws, including statements regarding our outlook concerning the development of internet TV and the decline of linear TV; the scope, timing and players involved in this transformation to internet TV; our approach to being an internet TV network, including improvements to our service features and content licensing, development and financing; content, marketing and technology and development spending; the impact of competition; our relationship with ISPs; strategy for China; international growth, localization of our service; our margin structure, including US and global contribution margins; subscriber growth; revenue, operating profit and cash flow; and government relations.