SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Netflix suffered its first subscriber loss in more than a decade, causing its shares to plunge 25% in extended trading amid concerns that the pioneering streaming service may have already seen its best days.
The company’s customer base fell by 200,000 subscribers during the January-March period, according to its quarterly earnings report released Tuesday. It’s the first time that Netflix’s subscribers have fallen since the streaming service became available throughout most of the world outside of China six years ago. The drop this year stemmed in part from Netflix’s decision to withdraw from Russia to protest the war against Ukraine, resulting in a loss of 700,000 subscribers.
Netflix acknowledged that its problems are deeply rooted, projecting a loss of another 2 million subscribers during the April-June period. Netflix shares lost between half and two-thirds of their value so far this year, wiping out about $150 billion in shareholder wealth in less than four months.
Netflix hopes to reverse the tide by taking steps it has previously resisted, including blocking the sharing of accounts and introducing a lower-priced—and ad-supported—version of its service. Aptus Capital Advisors analyst David Wagner said it’s now clear that Netflix is grappling with an imposing challenge. “They are in no-(wo) man’s land,” Wagner wrote in a research note Tuesday.
The latest subscriber loss was far worse than a forecast by Netflix management for a conservative gain of 2.5 million subscribers. The news deepens troubles that have been mounting for the streaming since a surge of signups from a captive audience during the pandemic began to slow. It marks the fourth time in the last five quarters that Netflix’s subscriber growth has fallen below the gains of the previous year, a malaise that has been magnified by stiffening competition from well-funded rivals such as Apple and Walt Disney.
The setback follows the company’s addition of 18.2 million subscribers in 2021, its weakest annual growth since 2016. That contrasted with an increase of 36 million subscribers during 2020 when people were corralled at home and starved for entertainment, which Netflix was able to quickly and easily provide with its stockpile of original programming. Netflix has previously predicted that it will regain its momentum, but on Tuesday faced up to the issues bogging it down.
“COVID created a lot of noise on how to read the situation,” Hastings said in a video conference reviewing the latest numbers. The Los Gatos, California, company estimated that about 30 million households in the U.S. and Canada are watching its service for free by using the account of a friend or another family member.
Netflix ended March with 221.6 million worldwide subscribers. The subscriber downturn clipped Netflix’s finances in the first quarter when the company’s profit fell 6% from last year to $1.6 billion, or $3.53 per share. Revenue climbed 10% from last year to nearly $7.9 billion.
With the pandemic easing, people have been finding other things to do, and other video streaming services are working hard to lure new viewers with their own award-winning programming. Apple, for instance, held the exclusive streaming rights to “CODA,” which eclipsed Netflix’s “Power of The Dog,” among other movies, to win Best Picture at last month’s Academy Awards.
Netflix also began heading in a new direction when its service added video games at no additional charge. The feature—an attempt to give people another reason to subscribe by adding video games at no extra charge—began to roll out last year.