We’re now days away from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announcing its long-overdue streaming video service. Apple’s entry into the suddenly crowded premium video market was inevitable, and Wall Street’s already trying to size up the winners and losers ahead of Monday’s media event.
Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is a name that often comes up at the top of the list of potential losers here. It’s the undisputed leader of premium streaming. Everyone’s gunning for Netflix. The shares took a hit last summer, just because a Wall Street analyst predicted that Apple’s future video service could be ringing up $4.4 billion in annual revenue by 2025. Many of the analyst notes that have bubbled up to the surface since Apple sent out the “it’s show time” invitations earlier this month have speculated that Apple could challenge Netflix at some point in the future.
Things are never that cut-and-dried, and the fact that Netflix shares are trading 7% higher over the past eight trading days since Apple’s media event was announced matters. Apple’s arrival is important, but it’s not something Netflix investors need to be freaking out about at the moment.
If Apple had jumped into this market five or six years ago — when it probably should have — this would probably have been seen as a positive for Netflix. Apple would be validating the then-nascent niche and educating the market on the merits of paying for a buffet of digital movies and TV shows. Things are different now. Streaming video is ubiquitous. There aren’t a lot of Apple fans who aren’t already subscribing to some form of premium streaming platform, so the argument here is that Apple’s growth will come at the expense of Netflix and other established players. Thankfully for Netflix, things just aren’t that simple.
Apple isn’t going to phone it in — or iPhone it in — here. Some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars and directors will be at Monday’s event, and when Apple’s platform launches, it’s going to be with an arsenal of head-turning original content. It’s a strategy that Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS)will be employing when it rolls out Disney+ later this year. Netflix drafted the blueprint in plain sight. It’s not a shock to see tech giants with money and media moguls with content follow the same path to make up for lost time.
The rub for Netflix naysayers is that this has never been a “winner take all” fight. There is more than enough room for several companies to carve out a cozy living in premium streaming video. If you don’t subscribe to more than just one premium video streaming service now, you probably will in the future. The arrival of Apple and Disney will come at the expense of cable and satellite television providers and to a lesser extent multiplex operators, as that will be the origin of the money spent on these new services.
There is room for more quality players in this space. Netflix stock has been an 11-bagger since Prime Video launched in early 2011. Netflix revenue grew 35% last year, even though rival Hulu added more net subscriber additions in 2018.
Netflix expects to have more than 148 million paying streaming members worldwide by the end of this month. Do you really see that shrinking by the end of this year because Apple and eventually Disney will be two of the hundreds of new platforms that have been introduced since Netflix pioneered this market?
If you really think that Apple’s success will come at Netflix’s expense, try explaining where the $16 billion that Netflix rang up in revenue last year came from. There isn’t that much money underneath sofa cushions, so it must’ve come either from improving prosperity or — more than likely — at the expense of what are now outdated ways of consuming video entertainment.
Apple knows how to make up for lost time. It may have been late to the premium audio smorgasbord revolution, but Apple Music is now the top dog in terms of paid U.S. subscribers. It will be a major player in this new niche, even if it prices its platform too high or limits its reach by using this as a way to draw more people into the iOS ecosystem. Until Apple actually closes in on Netflix in terms of paid subscribers or revenue generated from premium streaming video, Netflix will be better served looking out the front windshield as it tackles the road ahead than fixating on the rearview mirror.
Apple will win. Disney will win. Netflix will keep winning.
Rick Munarriz owns shares of Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
Netflix Inc. shares fell $0.35 (-0.10%) in after-hours trading Friday. Year-to-date, NFLX has gained 34.88%, versus a 12.23% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
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