Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) will have a lot to celebrate at its annual meeting on Wednesday.
The streaming video giant reported a blowout first quarter in mid-April, adding 2 million net subscribers domestically and 5.5 million internationally. Those numbers pleasantly surprised analysts, who had been expecting far fewer.
Investors tuning in to the annual meeting (you can find a link to the webcast here) will mostly be focused on three things: subscriber growth, content spend, and debt.
"Stranger Things" is one of the many hit shows attracting new subscribers to Netflix. Image source: Netflix.
Netflix rakes in subscribers thanks to big content budget
Netflix has been riding an impressive wave of growth. It reported a stunning 125 million total streaming subscribers as of the end of Q1, up from 99 million a year earlier. Those gains came mainly thanks to Netflix becoming a content machine, turning out hit show after hit show. In 2018, Netflix plans to release 700 series and film titles, including 80 non-English-language projects being created in foreign markets.
These overseas projects are important, considering Netflix's international growth surpassed its domestic growth in 2017 for the first time. Last quarter, international subscriber additions were more than double U.S. subscriber additions. Credit the company's efforts to create original content specifically for those overseas markets in their local languages and with local producers, rather than simply dubbing or subtitling its U.S. titles.
At the annual meeting, Netflix is expected to boast about its healthy subscriber growth this past year, and touch on its strategy to keep up that growth rate. For the past few years, the company has been juicing up a multibillion-dollar content budget. This year, Netflix raised some eyebrows when it announced plans to spend between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on content.
Netflix's one problem: debt
Its hard for Netflix to talk about its content spending and its expanding subscriber base without also talking about its rising debt. For now, the company says that it's willing to take on debt and be free-cash-flow negative in order to gain subscribers faster.
In late April, the company told investors that it would continue raising debt to fund that $8 billion (and growing) annual content budget. As of March 31, Netflix had $2.6 billion in cash and equivalents on the balance sheet, with $6.54 billion in long-term debt and $3.44 billion in long-term content payment agreements.
Netflix priced its latest debt offering at $1.9 billion, which was higher than initially planned, but this has become the norm for the company. Last year, it raised $1.6 billion in the fall, in addition to $1.4 billion in new debt financing arranged earlier in the year, and a $750 million line of credit opened in the summer.
Netflix has made it clear that it will continue to spend billions on content each year. It believes that, over time, its catalog will pull in enough subscribers to one day become an asset on its balance sheet. Until then, it will spend heavily to maintain the quality and quantity of its TV series and films.
Wall Street is used to hearing Netflix explain away its high debt levels as just a natural condition for a media company at this stage of its growth cycle. But this annual meeting will also be a good time for Netflix to inspire investors again with its content plans and subscriber growth goals. Then maybe that growing pool of red ink won't look so bad.
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