Netflix Earnings: 3 Things to Watch

April 17, 2017, 2:04 PM UTC

Investors may love or hate Netflix, but all of them can agree on one thing: Owning its stock is always an adventure.

Unlike more staid firms, which see their share prices move up and down a narrow band, Netflix stock is still prone to wild lurches after every earnings report. And like the original TV series it creates, Netflix is subject to dramatic narratives. One month, the streaming company may doomed at the hands of Amazon and the studio giants, while the next month it will defy expectations and crush it all over again.

If you like this sort of thing, you can sit back for another episode at 4:05 p.m. ET on Monday when the company will publish Q1 earnings. An investor Q&A will air on YouTube at 6 p.m. (More on that below.) Here are three things to watch for in the results:

Will Netflix Hit the Magic Numbers of 100 Million and $150?

The consensus estimates among analyst types is that Netflix will post earnings of $0.38 per share on Monday based on $2.64 billion in revenue. But as Netflix watchers know, the real driver of the stock has been subscriber growth.

Last quarter, Netflix predicted an increase for Q1 of 5.2 million subscribers, which would give it a total of 99 million worldwide subscribers. If the company exceeds expectations (as it often has in the past), that number could shoot past the 100 million mark—a symbolic milestone that could make investors giddy, and lead to another milestone. Specifically, if Netflix exceeds its subscriber targets, the share price will almost certainly burst through the $150 dollar mark for the first time. Recall how good news on the subscriber front saw the stock pop 8% last quarter.

The flip side, of course, is what happens if Netflix does not reach 100 million (or 99 million) subscribers. When the company delivers a downside surprise, the market has thrown tantrums of epic proportion, including in 2016 when lousy Q2 numbers saw the stock dive 16%.

Watch Content and Marketing Costs

Last year, Netflix said it would allocate $6 billion in 2017 to content costs, which covers both acquisitions and the company’s growing stable of original shows. The latter category is especially important as, unlike a few years ago, it’s much harder to license syndicated stuff on the cheap. Also, there is a veritable content crunch out there as other studios snap up shows, which makes Netflix’s job all the more difficult—especially as mighty Amazon (whose market cap is 7x that of Netflix) powers ahead with its own streaming strategy.

In today’s earnings results, look to see if the company or CEO Reed Hastings offers any updates to that $6 billion estimate. An increase could exacerbate what some see as a cash burn problem at Netflix.

Also watch for any hints about Netflix’s marketing costs. As some observers have pointed out, one drawback of new shows its that Netflix must spend more money to promote them, which has led the company’s marketing budget to creep up. It’s hard to see how the company can prevent this—but look to see how fast these costs rise.

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How Much Can Hastings Hide on the New Earnings Call Format?

Marketing costs and cash burn are pressing questions for investors. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance Netflix won’t say anything about them. That’s because this quarter’s earnings call comes in a new and canned format—unlike in the past, the YouTube conference call featuring CEO Hastings, will not be live.

Netflix announced the change in a press release last week, blandly stating the “interview will be recorded immediately ahead of release to improve audio video quality.”

The purported commitment to “audio video quality,” however, also lets Netflix avoid any live questions, which could put the company on the hot seat. As one insightful observer noted, this new format will not only frustrate investors, but could also land the company in trouble with SEC for again pushing the boundaries of how it communicates material information.

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