Netflix shares plunge as global growth falls short, US customers shrink

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Netflix is banking on growing its streaming customers with help from a new season of supernatural thriller "Stranger Things". PHOTO: NETFLIX

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Netflix Inc said on Wednesday (July 17) it lost US streaming customers for the first time in eight years and missed targets for new subscribers overseas, an announcement that jarred investors ahead of looming competition.

Netflix shares were down nearly 12 per cent in after-hours trading after the company posted quarterly results that showed it shed 130,000 US customers.

The world's dominant subscription video service said it overestimated demand for new programming released from April to June and felt an impact from price increases in some markets.

Netflix reported that it added 2.83 million new paid streaming subscribers outside the United States, below analyst expectations of 4.8 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Analysts had forecast a gain of 352,000 in the United States.

"Our missed forecast was across all regions, but slightly more so in regions with price increases," the company said a letter to shareholders.

"We think Q2's content slate drove less growth in paid adds than we anticipated," it said.

Netflix has staked its future on global expansion and creating original TV shows, movies and documentaries to attract new customers and keep the existing ones paying monthly subscription fees.

"Even though we expected slowing user growth in the US, a negative paid net additions number is shocking," said Clement Thibault, analyst at financial markets platform

"The problem is that with intensifying competition, there is no guarantee Netflix has the pricing power needed to raise prices without massively bleeding users."

Netflix raised prices in Britain, Switzerland, Greece and Western Europe during the second quarter.

The last time Netflix lost US subscribers was in 2011 following an uproar over a price hike and a plan to split its DVD-by-mail and streaming services.

Looking ahead, Netflix projected it will grow by 7 million paid streaming customers in the third quarter with help from a new season of supernatural thriller "Stranger Things", released on July 4. That is more bullish than the 6.6 million forecast from analysts polled by Refinitiv.

But looming in November is the launch of Disney+, seen as a formidable entrant into the streaming market, and original programming from Apple Inc. AT&T Inc and Comcast Corp have said they plan their own offerings next year.

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Streaming video company Netflix raised subscription prices in May and some users clicked off in the second quarter.

Netflix also faces the future loss of its two most-streamed shows. "The Office" will come off Netflix in January 2021 and head to Comcast's streaming platform, while "Friends" will end its run on Netflix at the beginning of 2020. It will move exclusively to the upcoming AT&T service HBO Max.

The company spent US$7.5 billion on content for 2018 and executives have said that amount will grow in 2019. Its debt has tripled from 2016 to US$10.36 billion in 2018.

Net income fell to US$270.7 million, or 60 cents per share, in the second quarter ended June 30 from US$384.3 million, or 85 cents per share, a year earlier.

Total revenue rose to US$4.92 billion from US$3.91 billion. Analysts on average had expected revenue of US$4.93 billion.

Netflix shares fell to US$320.66 in after-hours trading after closing at US$362.44 on the Nasdaq.

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