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Netflix passes 200m users in record year for streaming

James Titcomb
·3 min read
The company named Bridgerton as one of its most successful shows in the fourth quarter - Netflix
The company named Bridgerton as one of its most successful shows in the fourth quarter - Netflix

Netflix has crossed 200m subscribers after a record-breaking year in which huge numbers of locked-down households signed up to the streaming service.

The company said total subscribers had climbed to 203.7m at the end of 2020, meaning that 37m had signed up in the year.

Shares jumped 10pc in late trading as the company also said it would no longer need to raise new debt to fund its enormous spending on original content.

Millions of households turned to Netflix in March and April as the pandemic hit the Western world, with cinemas, pubs and restaurants shut down. However, growth had slumped in the third quarter of the year as economies reopened, and the company had reported its slowest user growth in years.

On Tuesday it said that growth had surged again at the end of 2020, with 8.5m households joining in the final three months of the year.

The jump comes despite Netflix raising prices in the US, by far its biggest market, for the first time in almost two years in October, and amid a wave of competition. Streaming services from Disney, Apple, HBO and broadcasters such as NBC have threatened to slow down Netflix’s growth, but many households have proven willing to sign up for multiple services.

Netflix subscribers
Netflix subscribers

The company’s figures also showed a significant improvement in its financial position. Revenues climbed 22pc to $6.6bn (£4.8bn), and while profits were slightly down due to taxes, Netflix’s closely-watched cash flow improved significantly.

The company burned through $284m in the quarter, compared to $1.7bn a year ago, and it said that from now on it expects to break even, meaning it will no longer have to borrow to fund its aggressive spending on new content. It said it could spend extra cash on share buybacks, something it has not done since 2011.

Netflix has racked up billions in debt as it commissions films and TV shows to attract subscribers, but said last night it will be able to finance this with its own revenues. It plans to release 70 original movies this year, up from an average of 60 in recent years.

It highlighted The Crown, period drama Bridgerton, and George Clooney-directed movie The Midnight Sky among its most popular material at the end of the year.

Separately, Walt Disney eliminated bonuses for its most highly compensated executives last year, with the company unable to meet some performance metrics, reported Bloomberg.

Executive chairman Bob Iger - who stepped down as chief executive last February - saw pay decline 56pc to $21m. His successor, current chief executive Bob Chapek, earned $14.2m. This marks one of the lowest compensation levels for a Disney chief in over a decade, and far below the $21.9m earned by Mr Iger in his first full year at the helm in 2006.

Despite its streaming service outperforming, the world’s largest entertainment firm has been forced to close theme parks and dock cruise ships globally amid the pandemic. It laid off around 32,000 workers last year.

Disney said it was making further changes to its compensation program this year, including dropping using earnings per share as a metric to calculate bonuses and adding revenue growth as a criteria.