UPDATE: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in today’s earnings call says the company’s much-ballyhooed deal to license the original TV series House of Cards is merely a test — and a relatively modest one at that. “I don’t know if it’s anything we’d bet the farm on, but we’re willing to try it with a little bit of our budget,” he told Wall Street analysts. He said in a letter to shareholders that Netflix might make “two or three similar, but smaller, deals” to see whether “we can efficiently build a big audience for a well-produced serialized show.” He said, in his note, that the characterization of Netflix as “rerun TV” is “fundamentally correct.”
Hastings told analysts, though, that he was intrigued by the performance of Starz’ Spartacus, which was also available on Netflix. It “opened our eyes” to the possibility that a show might develop a bigger buzz, and more TV viewers, when it runs on the Web as well as conventional TV. Meanwhile, Hastings says that Netflix is “working hard” to offer its streamed content to Android-powered smartphones and tablet computers. “It’s a big priority for us.” As for the competition in Web-delivered video, Hastings says he’s as eager as anyone to see what his rivals have planned. “We really don’t know what Dish (Network) is up to” with its acquisition of Blockbuster,” he adds. “A big market attracts a lot of competition.”
PREVIOUS, 1:30 PM: Netflix continues to strengthen the sense of inevitability that it will become a must-have service for Web users who want to watch professionally produced entertainment. It said Monday that it ended the first quarter with a net profit of $60 million, up 88% vs. the same period last year, on revenues of $719 million, up 46%. That comes to $1.11 in earnings per share. In January the company told investors that revenue could go as high as $717 million while earnings would come in between 90 cents and $1.13 a share. Even though Netflix often beats its own guidance, analysts considered that ambitious: The consensus was $703.6 million and $1.08.
Most underestimated Netflix’s appeal to the fast-growing number of people watching movies and TV shows via broadband. It had 23.6 million global subscribers at the end of March, a gain of 3.6 million so far in 2011 and close to the 23.7 million at the top of the target range it set for itself in January. That makes Netflix the largest subscription entertainment service, surpassing Comcast’s 22.8 million subscribers and Sirius XM’s 20.2 million. Some 22.8 million of Netflix’s customers are in the U.S. Now the company says it expects to have as many as 25.9 global million subscribers at the end of June. It projects second quarter revenues of as much as $798 million, and earnings per share as high as $1.15.
The results come as studios and other content providers are trying to figure out how to deal with Netflix as it morphs from a DVD by mail service into a Web power. Over the last year the company cut high-priced deals to add recent movies from Relativity Media and an original TV series – House Of Cards – to the odd array of old or niche movies and TV shows that subscribers can stream whenever they want. Meanwhile Amazon, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, HBO, as well as pay TV distributors have launched rival Web video services.
The Netflix shares, up more than 40% in 2011, dipped about 3% in after-hours trading after closing at $251.67. We’ll have more after 6:00 ET, when the company holds a conference call to answer questions from Wall Street analysts.