Netflix added 4 million net new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021, bringing its total subscriber base to 207.6 million, according to its latest earnings report.
Any year-over-year comparison was inevitably going to make this latest quarter seem disappointing, since Netflix grew by an unprecedented rate (15.77 million net new subscribers) during the same period last year, when the pandemic first trapped global audiences at home. But these new numbers also fall short of the 210 million subscribers that Netflix had been predicting.
While the streaming market has certainly become more competitive (with Disney+ recently passing 100 million subscribers), Netflix suggested that its lackluster growth had less to do with “competitive intensity” and more with the simple fact that it released fewer original shows and movies, thanks to pandemic-related production delays.
“We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big COVID-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to COVID-19 production delays,” the company said. “We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup. In the short term, there is some uncertainty from COVID-19; in the long term, the rise of streaming to replace linear TV around the world is the clear trend in entertainment.”
Netflix noted that retention was “in line with our expectations,” and that the main issue was new user acquisition. It also said that “in early Q1, with the benefit of ‘Bridgerton,’ ‘Lupin’ and ‘Cobra Kai,’ we were following a growth trajectory similar to recent years,” before growth dipped in March.
Pandemic-related delays will also affect the release schedule in Q2, so Netflix is only projecting 1 million net new subscribers. The release of high-profile titles should pick up again in the second half of the year, the company said, with production having resumed “in every major market, with the exception of Brazil and India.”
As for the company’s finances, revenue grew 24% year over year to $7.2 billion (in line with the forecast), with diluted earnings per share of $3.75. (Analysts had been predicting EPS of $2.97.) Netflix shares were down more than 11% in after-hours trading, as of 4:33 p.m. EDT.