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Economy

Netflix is losing subscribers for the first time in a decade

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Netflix is in trouble. The streaming service says it's losing subscribers for the first time in a decade. It blames competition and people who use other people's passwords. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn is with us. Good morning.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Bobby, this feels like a big deal because it speaks to the culture, right? So many people use video streaming, so a change in Netflix means some change in a lot of people's habits. What is happening?

ALLYN: Yeah, there's a lot going on here. First, the company is adjusting to the end of the pandemic boom that really supercharged Netflix, obviously. Steve, there's more to do these days than binge-watch television, so that means fewer eyeballs for Netflix. Then there's two other big factors. There's more competition than ever. Netflix is still the No. 1 streaming service, but it's fighting with Disney, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime for our viewing attention. And like you mentioned, Netflix executives said a big driving factor here is people sharing their Netflix account. So, yeah, that ex of yours or your best friend who knows your Netflix password - the company says those people are hurting the company's bottom line.

INSKEEP: I assume they bake in - they assume a certain amount of password-sharing, so how did it get so widespread that it's a problem?

ALLYN: Yeah. Netflix says when the company was growing fast, they just weren't that focused on it. But now they estimate that there are some hundred million households around the world that are account-sharing.

ALLYN: Wow.

ALLYN: A crackdown is - yeah. And they say a crackdown is coming. So Netflix says, you know, those people who are sharing their passwords with friends and loved ones and others are going to get a notification soon from Netflix saying, hey, you owe us a little bit more money. Here is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talking about this after a recent earnings call.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REED HASTINGS: Remember, these are over 100 million households that already are choosing to view Netflix. They love the service. We just got to get paid, you know, in some degree for them.

ALLYN: Yeah. Hastings says we want our money, right? It's a bit of a business dilemma, though, because he - you know, he wants these people to stick around and watch Netflix programming. But at the same time, you know, he says that Netflix should be paid for it.

INSKEEP: Yeah. How else is Netflix adjusting to the decline in audience?

ALLYN: Yeah. Well, so the big headline-grabbing change, I think, is commercials are coming to Netflix. There are soon going to be cheaper Netflix subscription options that involves ads. And this is a huge departure for the company since they've long pride themselves as being the place on the internet where you can log on, watch whatever you want and avoid annoying internet ads. So we'll see how that goes. But I talked to Beth Kendig. She's a stock analyst who follows Netflix, and she says ads might not save Netflix.

BETH KENDIG: Eventually, everyone who wants to have a Netflix subscription has a Netflix subscription. And globally, not everyone has internet speeds in order to make streaming doable.

ALLYN: In other words, Netflix streaming has been around for 15 years. If you want to have Netflix by now, you probably already have it. And global growth for many reasons can only keep going for so long.

INSKEEP: Might be becoming a mature business, as they say.

ALLYN: (Laughter) Exactly.

INSKEEP: So they're declining in terms of subscribers, but they've been such a huge player in Hollywood. Is there any chance that would change?

ALLYN: Not at all. While yes, as we've been talking about, they're - they've hit a bit of a rough patch. But, you know, in Hollywood, they're a real force to be reckoned with. They're incredibly prolific, and they have far more revenue coming in than traditional movie-making studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount. You know, but Netflix executives say they are bracing for more trouble ahead, to the tune of another 2 million subscribers gone.

INSKEEP: Bobby, thanks for the update - really appreciate it.

ALLYN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.