the streaming wars

Netflix Has Added a Stunning Number of Subscribers During the Lockdown

Jason Bateman in Ozark.
Jason Bateman in Ozark. Photo: Netflix

Netflix added 15.8 million new subscribers worldwide during the first three months of 2020, more than doubling its forecast for the quarter as global lockdowns designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus dramatically increased demand for the streaming giant. It was the largest single-quarter growth spurt in the company’s history. While hit shows such as Tiger King and Love Is Blind clearly helped, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant Netflix’s “growth has temporarily accelerated due to home confinement,” the service said in a letter to shareholders Tuesday. “During the first two months of [2020], our membership growth was similar to the prior two years, including in [the U.S. and Canada],” the company explained. “Then, with lockdown orders in many countries starting in March, many more households joined Netflix.”

As for specific numbers, Netflix had just shy of 183 million global subscribers at the end of March, up from 167.1 million at the end of 2019. That compares with around 8.8 million new subs in the fourth quarter of 2019 and 9.6 million during the first three months of 2019. In the United States and Canada, membership now stands at just under 70 million subscribers, versus 67.7 million when it last reported numbers. The biggest growth region was Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, where Netflix added just under 7 million new homes and grew to 58.7 million subscribers.

In terms of which shows and movies are performing best on Netflix, the service highlighted several titles it said had done exceptionally well via its “chosen to watch” metric, which measures how many subscriber homes sampled at least two minutes of something. Not surprisingly, Tiger King roared with 64 million samplings during its first four weeks, which just happens to be the exact same number Netflix cited when touting the performance of Stranger Things 3 last year. The streamer is also projecting the new season of Money Heist (a.k.a. La Casa de Papel) will reach 65 million homes by the end of April, while the much-talked-about Love Is Blind was sampled by 30 million. Beating all of these projects, per Netflix: the Mark Wahlberg original movie Spenser Confidential, which has been viewed in a whopping 85 million member homes, the streamer said.

Despite the stronger-than-expected quarter, Netflix is already warning investors that the pandemic may yet have a downside for the service’s numbers and financial performance. “Hopefully, progress against the virus will allow governments to lift the home confinement soon. As that happens, we expect viewing and growth to decline,” Netflix wrote shareholders, estimating that 7.5 million new subscribers will sign up in the coming quarter, though also admitting that number is “mostly guesswork.” Netflix also noted that its summer 2019 slate was jam-packed with content, and that this summer is already shaping up to be less star-studded. “Therefore, we currently guess that [summer and fall] will have lower net additions than last year due to these effects,” the streamer said.

There’s also the question of how the halt of TV and film production will impact Netflix’s programming pipeline. The service said to expect “only a modest impact on our new releases,” mostly because of difficulties in dubbing shows into different languages. “No one knows how long it will be until we can safely restart physical production in various countries, and, once we can, what international travel will be possible, and how negotiations for various resources (e.g., talent, stages, and post-production) will play out.”

Netflix added it is “working hard to complete the content we know our members want” but that it would also look to bring on “additional licensed films and series.” In addition, the streamer noted its rivals will be dealing with similar challenges. “Our content competitors and suppliers will be impacted about as much as we are, in terms of new titles,” it told shareholders. “Since we have a large library with thousands of titles for viewing and very strong recommendations, our member satisfaction may be less impacted than our peers’ by a shortage of new content, but it will take time to tell.”

Netflix didn’t make any news Tuesday in terms of new deals, but it did announce that the Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance, which is now airing on ESPN and Netflix outside the U.S., will debut on Netflix in the U.S. on July 19. The project has been a co-production of Netflix and ESPN since its earliest days in development.

Netflix Is Bigger Than Ever Because of the Coronavirus