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The battle of streaming video providers is afoot, and all eyes are on Netflix, though not for its movies, but for its quarterly earnings report. The DVD-by-mail and global streaming video provider recently announced second-quarter profits, emphasizing a return to profitability after a previous quarter of losses.
However upon closer inspection, the numbers that may matter most — namely subscriptions — suggest a more fallow than fertile second quarter. Netflix lost 850,000 DVD subscriptions in the second quarter, and gained only 530,000 streaming-video subscriptions. Not a reassuring sign of growth, especially in light of the 800,000 subscribers the company lost in 2011 after its price hike debacle.
Compounding the situation, last week Netflix endured a sizable drop in streaming customers who opted to watch the Olympics via NBC instead. Added to that, Netflix executives noted expansion plans in Q4 that may drive the company "temporarily back in the red." This news didn't leave much light at the end of the tunnel as far as investors were concerned. As reported in the New York Times, Netflix shares fell 16% on Tuesday and plummeted to 25% the next day. Can Netflix keep afloat as America's streaming service despite its bout of business troubles?
While investors question its growth potential, Netflix continues to work at full throttle to expand its share of the market. In a joint letter to investors, Netflix Chief Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells detail Netflix's strategy to become the "world's most popular TV show and movie service" focusing on content acquisition and high-quality streaming.
The battle for content is the core of today's streaming video wars and Netflix's struggles to bolster its library of offerings have been well documented. Last week, rumor of a partnership between Netflix and HBO generated a lot of excitement, but was quashed the following day by an official HBO spokesperson. Realistically, an HBO partnership with Netflix would have most likely led to much higher Netflix subscription fees, which is not what consumers want. What they do want is stand alone access to HBO — and that's not going happen, not as far as Time Warner is concerned; it too wants to maintain its subscribers.
To that end, HBO now offers its own streaming service called HBO Go. This service provides HBO subscribers with mobile access to a wide selection of on-demand HBO programming. But Netflix, in turn, has emulated HBO's business plan and has created its own original content. Show's like Kevin Spacey's House of Cards and Hemlock Grove have strong star power. And the Netflix return of the cult hit, and former Fox sitcom, Arrested Development will surely garner viewership.
It's hard to predict how current entertainment demands will define future business models, but for now the proverbial game of thrones continues. Most would agree that Netflix's biggest challenge lies in streaming video, namely maintaining and expanding its content.
In the meantime, viewers are embracing the Netflix's competition and the unique benefits that each service offers. Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month) has quickly earned status as the go-to place for watching recent TV shows. Amazon Prime members ($79 annual service) enjoy albeit limited, but free streaming of older and classic movies and filmz.
Amazon's pay-as-you-go offerings, too, are helping broaden the mega retailer's digital content scope. Rented titles are now available on the iPad via Amazon's app, but users can't purchase new titles in the app. Newcomer VUDU is another pay-as-you-go service that offers a limited number of movies in a variety of formats. This Walmart service is quickly gaining popularity, notably for its picture quality.
If any one thing is clear, it's that the streaming video battle is just surely underway. Whether any one service will ever reign supreme is difficult to discern as the competition keeps mounting; we'll just have to stay tuned to see what happens.
Is Netflix still holding your interest? What about cable? Should HBO go rogue and offer stand-alone access? How many services does it take to satisfy your movie and television fix? We'd like to hear all about your viewing habits in the comments.