Netflix surpasses 200 million subscribers, but has more competition than ever in 2021

Netflix has surpassed another major milestone: 203.6 million subscribers around the world.

The achievement comes after Netflix saw spectacular growth in the first half of 2020. But as it celebrates passing the 200 million subscriber mark, Netflix is also acknowledging that 2021 likely won’t see as many net subscriber gains every quarter, starting in the first quarter of 2021.

Netflix added a total of 8.5 million paid net subscribers in Q4, bringing in a record breaking 37 million paid memberships in 2020. Netflix “achieved $25 billion in annual revenue,” according to the earnings report. Still, Netflix is warning that “we expect paid net adds of 6 million” in Q1 2021 compared to last year’s “15.8 million, which included the impact from the initial COVID-19 lockdowns.” Most importantly, however, Netflix executives are telling shareholders that “we no longer have a need to raise external financing for our day-to-day operations.” Or, more simply put, Netflix no longer needs to borrow substantial amounts of cash.

Coming off a less than stellar third quarter in terms of subscriber gains (2.2 million added compared to the 6 million expected), the current uptick in growth is a sign of what Netflix can achieve with a string of must-watch content. In the fourth quarter, new shows like The Queen’s Gambit and Emily in Paris found a sizable fan base right away. Plus, strong returns for popular shows like The Crown helped make Netflix a destination streamer, even amid competition from Disney Plus (The Mandalorian’s second season premiered at the end of October) and HBO Max.

More than 62 million households watched The Queen’s Gambit within the first four weeks of its release, making it the second most watched limited series on Netflix. The only show that beat it was Tiger King. Toward the end of the quarter, Netflix also saw another big hit with Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton, which Netflix projected would amass more than 63 million household views within its first four weeks. If true, that would make Bridgerton Netflix’s fifth most-watched series to date. The Crown’s fourth season also remained one of the most-watched shows for weeks. George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky is also estimated to reach we 72 million households.

The current uptick in growth is a sign of what Netflix can achieve with a string of must-watch content

Now, as Netflix moves into 2021, the company is trying to let subscribers know that it has plenty more to come. Just a month after Netflix announced price increases in the United States to its most popular plan, the company also declared it would release at least one movie a week — or about one every five days. That doesn’t account for new shows, either.

Despite the up-and-up seen in this most recent quarter, there is some hesitancy about the upcoming year. One reason is the pulldown effect. Those who didn’t have Netflix, particularly in the United States, signed up. Co-CEO Reed Hastings warned at the time that subscriber gains wouldn’t be as strong because so many people signed up at once — something the company saw happen in its third quarter.

HBO Max and Peacock still hadn’t launched, Disney Plus didn’t have too much original content, and sports were shut down — Netflix became one of the only things to do. That’s changed. WandaVision just launched on Disney Plus, and it will roll right into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Ms. Marvel, and Hawkeye. WarnerMedia is releasing its big theatrical titles simultaneously on HBO Max the same day movies hit theaters, possibly drawing attention away. Then there’s TikTok and YouTube and Fortnite and, hopefully sometime soon, the real world to rejoin.

By October 2020, 25 percent of general streaming subscribers canceled a service to sign up for another one

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix’s letter to shareholders reads.

Netflix has a pipeline of big movies and TV shows coming up — including The Witcher’s return, Umbrella Academy, and Shadow and Bone — but it’s getting harder for those titles to stick out simply because they’re on Netflix. People who want Netflix most likely already have Netflix, and the very nature of streaming allows people to cancel one service and jump to another one whenever they want because of easy monthly plans.

By October 2020, 25 percent of general streaming subscribers canceled a service to sign up for another one, according to a recent study conducted by Deloitte. It was 17 percent in May, just before HBO Max and Peacock launched. Deloitte also found that 62 percent of people who signed up to watch a specific show canceled once they finished. On Netflix, when that show is dropped at once and people can marathon it, it’s easier to cancel than on Disney Plus, where episodes are released weekly.

Netflix is entering a new year with more high-power competition than ever before and even more uncertainties about what the pandemic will bring. Netflix will likely continue to sit atop the streaming throne, but it’s not going to ever be as easy as it was before.

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