Back in 2013, when Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) first got into the original-programming game with its hit series House of Cards, owners of Netflix stock were curious, but mostly un-opinionated. While most everyone agreed it was a worthy experiment that had the potential to help cull its content costs, most everyone also knew it would take a lot of work and a lot of time before Netflix’s home-grown content would be a game-changer for it, and the company.
Last year’s was arguably the pivot point on that front. In 2017, not only did the second season of Stranger Things, the second season of The Crown and a sci-fi flick called Bright (which critics panned, but viewers loved) cement the company’s place in the annals of legitimate production houses, it made the service worth the monthly fee of $10.99.
But while things may have swung in the right direction between 2013 and 2017, the pendulum of Netflix’s ambitions to become its own content producer is still swinging that way, perhaps too far. The company is planning to spend $8 billion on content this year — mostly original stuff — creating a whopping 700 new television programs.
If nothing else, it’s a plan that should haunt Netflix stock-holders simply because it’s too much choice for viewers to effectively sift through.
Superficially speaking, the strategy makes sense. With Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) laying the groundwork for two standalone streaming services (one for Disney content that will also feature Marvel and Star Wars programming, and another to deliver ESPN-branded sports content), Netflix is differentiating itself by developing an entire universe of content to choose from.
Owners of Netflix stock can also take comfort in knowing that shows and movies not produced by familiar, mainstream studios is the wave of the future. Hulu, jointly owned by Disney, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) and others have also done very well on their own. Hulu’s original program The Handmaid’s Tale recently won a Golden Globe, verifying that the industry is not only taking these shows seriously, but acknowledging they’re of quality.
Still, 700 new shows is a massive undertaking, and may sacrifice quality for quantity. In trying to be all things to all people, it may be nothing of clear value to anyone. As John Landgraf, president of television channel FX, commented back in 2016 when Netflix turned up the heat on originals, “You could give me all the money in the world, and I still couldn’t personally supervise 71 shows and give each series the attention it needed.”
That said, consumers have already started to feel mentally fatigued from too many choices. A survey conducted by Hub Entertainment Research late last year determined that 49% of TV watchers said there are too many shows.
Adding 700 more to the mix could frustrate them into turning the television off altogether. At the very least it will dilute the viewership of all of Netflix’s programs.
The Cost of Netflix Stock
While the sheer number of new programs in the queue is daunting, even more troubling to current and prospective owners of Netflix stock is their cost.
Truth be told, an $8 billion budget plus another $2 billion in marketing expenses isn’t jaw-dropping to shareholders; they’ve grown accustomed to the big spending. Indeed, they’ve seen it pay off, not with profit growth but with revenue and subscriber growth. Investors should know, however, that’s still an unusually large budget for an organization that’s only expected to drive less than $16 billion in revenue this year, and less than $20 billion in revenue next year.
For perspective, networks like ABC and CBS usually only spend between $3 billion and $4 billion on video content per year. Meanwhile, Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) — a company that’s never been shy about spending a buck if it brings new customers into the fold — is expected to only spend about $5 billion on its original content this year, yet it could spend considerably more if it wanted to. That $5 billion should be enough, however, to make Amazon Prime more than pay for itself by encouraging purchases at its e-commerce website.
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter flat out said that Netflix is “not investing prudently,” and is “still going to lose money” even if half the shows in the works for this year end up being success rather than flops.
Bottom Line for Netflix Stock
Not to overstate the inherent risks and rewards of Netflix’s initiative, but this is a big change that could really help or potentially ruin the company, and Netflix stock. Surprisingly, it’s not a debilitating financial situation that’s injecting the risk, but a product-based one. Netflix is either going to delight its viewers, or outright overwhelm them without offering any of the must-see movies like entries into the Star Wars or Marvel franchises — the flicks people talk about at work when they come back from the weekend.
Maybe it will work. But, I’m not optimistic this effort is going to make the Netflix service any more marketable than it is right now.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.