By Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business
New York (CNN Business)Season 3 of Netflix’s Queen Elizabeth II drama “The Crown” premieres later this month — and it comes at a time when bigger rivals like Apple, Disney and Amazon are threatening to steal the company’s title as the reigning monarch of streaming media.
But investors seem to think that Netflix will withstand the threat.
Netflix (NFLX) shares have enjoyed a solid rebound in the past two weeks, gaining more than 10% since late October following a better than expected earnings report.
And CEO Reed Hastings has vowed to offer even more new programming to stay ahead of the competition.
“We plan on taking spend up quite a bit,” Hastings told attendees at the New York Times’ DealBook conference Wednesday. He added that he expects consumers to subscribe to many different streaming offerings but that he believes consumers will spend the most time on Netflix.
But Hastings will need more hit shows to keep subscribers interested — not to mention to justify the fact that Netflix, which raised its subscription prices earlier this year, costs more than its rivals.
Netflix’s cheapest plan is $8.99 a month. The standard plan is now $12.99 and its premium offering costs $15.99.
More streaming competition at lower prices
Apple (AAPL), the most valuable public company on the planet, has just launched Apple TV+, a service that costs just $4.99 a month and includes buzzy series starring the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa and a Book Club show from Oprah Winfrey.
And Disney (DIS). which will report earnings after the closing bell Thursday, is getting ready to roll out Disney+ on November 12.
Disney+ will cost only $6.99 a month and features content ranging from classic Disney titles like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Fantasia” to movies from its Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm studios — as well as new shows tied to Marvel characters and the Star Wars spinoff “The Mandalorian.”
The House of Mouse teased all the movies and shows it will have in an epic tweetstorm last month.
Netflix investors are understandably nervous about the new competition, especially since the company also has to contend with Amazon (AMZN) and its Prime Video service, Disney-backed Hulu and more new streaming services launching next year, most notably HBO Max and Peacock from Comcast (CMCSA)-owned NBC Universal. (HBO and CNN are both part of AT&T’s (T) WarnerMedia unit.)
Netflix is losing a lot of content to these new services. Disney is taking nearly all of its movies and TV shows off Netflix. HBO Max recently won the rights to the 90s sitcom “Friends,” which had been a top show on Netflix. “The Office” will leave Netflix in 2021 for Peacock. Netflix has fought back though, snaring the rights to “Seinfeld.”
Those fears are a key reason why Netflix has lagged the broader market this year.
Even after factoring in Netflix’s recent rebound in the past few weeks, the stock is only up about 10% this year. That’s not awful, but it lags the Nasdaq’s gain of 28% as well as Disney’s more than 20% pop.
Netflix is also the worst performing FAANG stock by far. Facebook (FB) is up nearly 45%. Apple has surged almost 65% in 2019. Amazon has gained 20% and Google (GOOGL) owner Alphabet is up about 25%.
International growth could help Netflix rebound
Investors may be overreacting. Netflix still has huge exclusive hits like “Stranger Things” and is also making a big push into movies. Martin Scorsese’s latest epic — “The Irishman” — will stream on Netflix later this month following a limited release in theaters.
“We don’t think it’s hyperbole to dub the current environment ‘Streaming Wars,'” said Jeffrey Wlodarczak, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group, in a recent report. But he added that Netflix “will remain a must have for most consumers, will benefit from a potential acceleration away from PayTV [and] is unencumbered by a legacy business to protect.”
Netflix’s stock’s underperformance compared to rivals “has created an attractive opportunity,” he said.
Several analysts are also betting that Netflix’s international growth will continue to boost the stock — even as the US market becomes more competitive.
Nomura Instinet analyst Mark Kelley raised his price target on Netflix to $330 (about 15% higher than the current price) after its latest earnings report, citing solid growth in subscribers and revenue outside of the US.
CFRA analyst Tuna Amobi also touted the momentum overseas, pointing out in a note that Netflix has more “potential upside” due to its bets on local language content. Germany’s “Dark” and Spanish-language shows “La Casa de Papel” and “La Casa de Las Flores” have been breakout hits.
Even Citron Research, a firm known for making bearish calls on Netflix and other high-profile stocks, is no longer betting against Netflix. In a tweet Thursday, Citron name-dropped several of the company’s biggest international programs and said that overseas traction could boost Netflix shares to $350 — nearly 20% above where it’s trading now.