Netflix reports surge in subscriptions and revenues thanks to COVID-19

As expected, Netflix has experienced a material benefit from many societies being placed under lockdown thanks to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

Revenues for the three months ending March 31 stood at $5.768 billion, a 27% year-on-year increase for the quarter, while the number of subscriptions globally was up 22.8% to 182 million. With many societies forcing citizens to stay at home for the vast majority of the day, it is unsurprising Netflix is benefitting from the current situation.

Interestingly enough, Netflix also spent far less over this three-month period on marketing activities than it had before, year-on-year 18% less in fact, though any gains here were partly offset by the additional $81 million which was allocated to technology and development.

“At Netflix, we’re acutely aware that we are fortunate to have a service that is even more meaningful to people confined at home, and which we can operate remotely with minimal disruption in the short to medium term,” Netflix said in the letter to shareholders. “Like other home entertainment services, we’re seeing temporarily higher viewing and increased membership growth.

“In our case, this is offset by a sharply stronger US dollar, depressing our international revenue, resulting in revenue-as-forecast. We expect viewing to decline and membership growth to decelerate as home confinement ends, which we hope is soon.”

The issue which Netflix faces in the long-term is one of production, though this is a challenge which the entire segment is coming to terms with. All filming has effectively stopped globally, and while Netflix will have content ready to launch over the coming months, the severity of the impact to new content launches will depend on how quickly normality can return to society.

This is a risk for the industry, but it is one which can be managed to a degree. Writing can still continue, as can production of animated content, though there will certainly be an impact. However, this should be balanced by the gains which Netflix is seeing through this period of societal lock-down.

“A surge in subs is notable which will have a positive impact on revenue over subsequent quarters,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “Unsurprisingly, engagement is going through the roof and will proliferate over coming months.

“You should expect to see users think twice about how much they spend with their current TV provider and may cut back/substitute in preference for online video streaming services. For now the future of SVOD remains rosy.”

Twitter withdraws guidance for next month’s earnings call

With the FTSE 100 down 30% and the Dow Jones declining 31% in a month, it would surprise few there are numerous companies preparing investors for a tricky earnings call.

Twitter has its first quarter earnings call in just over a month and in preparation for what should be a difficult conversation, the team has taken the opportunity to withdraw revenue guidance. Engagement is growing to the levels it would have expected, monetizable Daily Active Users are up 8% quarter-on-quarter, though a decline in advertising revenues is likely to be a painful reality.

Year-on-year revenue is likely to decline, while team has warned it is likely to report an operating loss for the period.

“Twitter had a strong start to the year before the effects of COVID-19 began spreading more broadly, including a successful Super Bowl and overall strength in the US,” said CFO Ned Segal.

“The COVID-19 impact began in Asia, and as it unfolded into a global pandemic, it has impacted Twitter’s advertising revenue globally more significantly in the last few weeks. We have made solid progress on our consumer and revenue product priorities and we remain confident in our opportunity and strategy.”

This is of course a very tricky period for any advertising-led company to navigate, though the Twitter team might take some comfort in realising it is not alone in the technology space.

At the end of February, Microsoft warned investors its revenues would not be as high as forecast in the previous earnings call, while PayPal suggested to its investors COVID-19 would have a negative impact on its performance.

Although the new kids in Silicon Valley might be feeling the pinch, it is the older residents, the semiconductor companies, who seem to be impact more significantly thanks to lower devices sales. Qorvo, a supplier to lower-cost iPhones Apple was rumoured to be launching this spring, lowered its revenue forecast from $840 million to $770 million, while ON Semiconductor’s revenue guidance fell to of $1.275 billion to $1.325 billion from $1.355 billion to $1.405 billion. Qualcomm recently announced results and a lower than expected guidance, while Broadcom has withdrawn prior annual guidance.

These statements might have been expected from the market considering the on-going challenges presented by COVID-19, but for Twitter this is a precarious period in particular.

Twitter is facing pressure like few other companies, and it comes in the shape of a vulture more commonly known as Elliott Management.

Like any vulture fund, Elliott Management aims to capitalise on difficult conditions to make money. It scours the globe searching for companies where share price is lower than expected, and it may believe it can sway other investors into a change of strategy and/or management. When it purchased 4% of Twitters shares over the last few months, share price was in region of $33-38, which was deemed undervalued. With Twitter’s share price now down at $25 (at the time of writing) it might sense an opportunity.

Twitter attempted to appease the activist investor by appointing one of its partners, Jesse Cohn, to the Board of Directors, but this new context might offer some encouragement to Elliott Management to pursue a more aggressive path.