Netflix is losing market share, but this is the actual risk to shareholders

Investors have never seen the streaming giant forced to deal with so much serious competition.

| More on:
person with a magnifying glass with four blocks of letters spelling out risk on top of each other

Image source: Getty Images

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) is losing market share to be sure -- but consider the circumstances. It was the first company to make streaming video a mainstream phenomenon, and for years, it was the only serious name in the business. It's only natural that the recent launches of big rival services such as Disney's (NYSE: DIS) Disney+ and AT&T's (NYSE: T) HBO Max would chip away at Netflix's share of the on-demand video space.

But there's room for more than one winner in this business, and Netflix's market-leading 204 million paid worldwide subscribers is still only a fraction of its total addressable market. Shareholders need not ramp up the anxiety levels just yet.

Stock-picking can be a funny business. Sometimes investors may use all the wrong reasons to mentally justify why a company deserves to be priced at a steep premium, but then quickly change their minds with little to no warning when circumstances shift.

It's this phenomenon that should make the streaming market's new entrants so concerning to Netflix shareholders. We've never actually seen Netflix forced to compete seriously until now. To the extent that its commanding market share and impressive growth rates are the reasons the stock's price-to-earnings ratio has lingered above 60, current investors should at least be cautious.

Netflix is losing ground

Continued dominance of a market is never guaranteed. Just ask investors of Yahoo!, MySpace, or IBM. There was a time when shares of IBM and Yahoo! were priced as if those companies would never stop growing, while privately held MySpace fetched a price of $580 million when News Corp. acquired it back in 2005 -- and was in 2007 valued at around $12 billion. Six years after News Corp. bought it, MySpace was sold again -- for $35 million. Competitors stepped up to the plate, as they always do.

Netflix is no MySpace, to be clear, but it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that its best days are behind it. As tough as things have been competitively speaking over the course of the past year, they're only going to get tougher as players like HBO Max, Disney+, and Hulu step up their streaming games.

Data from market intelligence outfit eMarketer lets us flesh out this trend with some numbers. It reports that Netflix secured 36.2% of the U.S. over-the-top television industry's revenue in 2020, down from 44.4% in 2019. By 2022, its share is expected to be down to 28.4%, and almost even with Disney's slice of the U.S. streaming market.

That math is roughly in line with similar research from Ampere Analysis suggesting Netflix lost 30% of its U.S. market share last year.

Its next customers won't come cheap

In its defense, Netflix is winning a relatively smaller piece of a rapidly growing pie. Last year's revenue of $25 billion was up 24% year over year, propelled by subscriber growth at a similar rate, and its profits grew at nearly twice that pace. While year-over-year revenue gains are projected to slow, earnings growth is forecast to remain robust through 2025. This may be why Netflix shares continue to trade at 91 times trailing earnings and 57 times forward earnings.

That's a profit outlook, however, seemingly based on the assumption that per-subscriber marketing costs will remain suppressed. They won't. They can't.

See, players like AT&T and Disney are increasingly supporting their fledgling streaming platforms and gaining traction with their efforts. Whereas eMarketer forecasts that Disney and Netflix will be equals within the U.S. by 2022, Digital TV Research's principal analyst Simon Murray predicts Disney+ will dethrone Netflix as the nation's streaming leader sometime between 2024 and 2026. Disney itself says it's expecting to have between 230 million and 260 million Disney+ subscribers by 2024, versus Netflix's current headcount of 204 million. Netflix will be forced to respond, likely starting with more -- not less -- spending on marketing, or content, or both.

Indeed, after reining in its marketing spending early in the pandemic, in the fourth quarter, the company ramped it back up. The result was that marketing spending ate into last year's surge in operating income ... almost dollar-for-dollar. Yet Netflix only picked up a relatively modest 8.5 million subscribers for the fourth quarter, despite the boost to its marketing outlays.

Netflix's historical numbers suggest it has to spend more on marketing to grow more.

Data source: Netflix. All dollar figures are in thousands. Chart by author.

The message? The streaming market's cheap, the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

Bottom line

It's clear that Netflix's status as the bully on the block is in jeopardy. To what degree that matters remains to be seen. Just know that not much takes the wind out of a stock's sails like seeing the underlying company lapped by a newcomer, or seeing its market share chipped away by a flock of new competitors. Just ask IBM, which was once the dominant name of the business computing industry, but was ultimately upended by a combination of Intel, HP, and the army of motherboard manufacturers they led away from IBM's ecosystem.

NFLX Chart

NFLX data by YCharts.

Given all of this, it's curious that Netflix shares have considerably underperformed the broad market over the course of the past six months -- a period when the appeal of a host of new streaming competitors became clear. It may be a subtle, subconscious hint of the market's brewing doubts about Netflix stock's steep valuation. Perception isn't everything, but it's certainly a lot.

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

James Brumley owns shares of AT&T. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. recommends Intel and recommends the following options: long January 2023 $57 calls on Intel and short January 2023 $57 puts on Intel. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

More on International Stock News

A woman holds a soldering tool as she sits in front of a computer screen while working on the manufacturing of technology equipment in a laboratory environment.
International Stock News

Up nearly 80% this year, does Nvidia stock have room for more?

Nvidia's stock added a lot of its gains the day after Q4 earnings.

Read more »

Piggy bank on an electric charger.
International Stock News

If you'd invested $1,000 in Tesla stock 5 years ago, here's how much you'd have today

Tesla bears may not have noticed it, but Tesla profits are forecast to 3x over the next five years.

Read more »

Businessman using a digital tablet with a graphical chart, symbolising the stock market.
International Stock News

Bull vs. bear: Can the S&P 500 keep rising in 2024?

We review the bull and bear case for the S&P 500 this year.

Read more »

woman with coffee on phone with Tesla
International Stock News

Why Tesla stock put pedal to metal today

Tesla's robotaxi is coming in August.

Read more »

A male investor sits at his desk looking at his laptop screen holding his hand to his chin pondering whether to buy Macquarie shares
International Stock News

If you invested $10,000 in Nvidia stock the day ChatGPT came out, this is how much you'd have today

Buying Nvidia when the disruptive AI chatbot launched would have been a smart move.

Read more »

A Tesla car driving along a road at sunset
International Stock News

Why Tesla stock was climbing today

Investors were encouraged by news of a price hike on the Model Y.

Read more »

Plate with coloured wedges being parcelled out like a slice of pie representing a share split
International Stock News

Stock-split watch: Is Nvidia next?

Nvidia last split its stock when it traded for a pre-split $744 in 2021.

Read more »

A woman in jeans and a casual jumper leans on her car and looks seriously at her mobile phone while her vehicle is charged at an electic vehicle recharging station.
International Stock News

1 Wall Street analyst thinks Tesla stock is going to $125. Is it a sell?

Tesla is no longer a magnificent stock, according to a Wells Fargo analyst.

Read more »