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Netflix Is Nearing Subscriber Peak in the U.S., PwC Says

Netflix may not have much more room to grow in the United States — particularly as new rival streaming services from Disney and WarnerMedia are poised to hit the market, according to a new research report.

Netflix appears to be nearing its peak subscriber point in the U.S.,” the consulting firm said in its Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023 report, released Wednesday.

In the first quarter of 2019, Netflix added a net 1.74 million streaming customers in the U.S., to reach 60.2 million paid subs. But in part because of a price hike for all customers that it rolled out in the first half of the year, the company projected 300,000 U.S. net adds in Q2 (versus 870,000 in the year-earlier quarter). PwC noted that domestic subscribers accounted for just one in seven of Netflix’s new subscribers in Q1.

Netflix has consistently told Wall Street that it believes it can grow its streaming service to 60 million-90 million members in the U.S., so it’s now in that range. While it has considerable runway internationally — JP Morgan, for one, has projected that Netflix will top 200 million global paid subscribers by 2021 — it might be nearing its ceiling in the States.

“The first-mover advantage in streaming video that Netflix has capitalized on to date continues to be eroded, as the industry begins to fragment, with more and more companies entering the market, from pay-TV heavyweights to specialized, niche players,” PwC said in the report.

Overall, U.S. subscription VOD revenue stood at $10 billion in 2018, projected to increase at a 12.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to $17.8 billion in 2023, according to PwC’s latest forecast. But the year-on-year rate of growth of SVOD revenue in the United States will decline markedly, more than halving from 19.1% in 2018 to 9.7% in 2023, as the world’s biggest market slows considerably as it moves toward maturity.

Against that backdrop, Netflix is about to see a new set of deep-pocketed rivals, adding to its existing set of competitors like Amazon Prime Video, HBO Now and Hulu.

Disney Plus, priced at $7 per month — almost half of Netflix’s standard plan at $13 — is set to debut in the U.S. in November. The Disney streaming service will have one-fifth the content lineup of Netflix out of the gate but will feature higher-rated titles, including Star Wars movies and films from Disney, Marvel and Pixar. Disney Plus also will include “The Simpsons” and other TV shows, and a slate of original series.

WarnerMedia is gearing up its SVOD entrée with a beta launch in Q4, anchored around HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner programming. Comcast’s NBCUniversal is set to launch a streaming service in 2020 (free to pay-TV customers and for a free to others). Then there’s Apple, the biggest tech company in the world, which is shooting for a fall launch of Apple TV Plus, with originals from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Kumail Nanjiani and Oprah.

Netflix has downplayed the competitive threat posed by new entrants. It’s still more than twice as big in the U.S. alone than Hulu, which last month reported 26.8 million paid subscribers. “There’s a ton of competition out there and Disney and Apple add a little bit more, but frankly I doubt it will be material, because again there’s already so many competitors for entertainment time,” CEO Reed Hastings said on the company’s Q1 earnings interview.

At the same time, Netflix is continuing to up the ante on content investments. In 2018 Netflix spent $8 billion on programming on a profit/loss basis. This year, Netflix is expected to plunk down around $13 billion to surpass Comcast’s NBCUniversal (whose spending is pegged at $10 billion) as the biggest spender on content in the U.S. market, according to PwC’s report. Amazon is estimated to spend about $5 billion, while Hulu, now fully controlled by Disney, is set to spend about $3 billion.

Subscription VOD is growing faster than most sectors of media and entertainment, per PwC. In the U.S., internet advertising will see a CAGR of 8.4% over 2018-23 to $160.8 billion. Over the same time period, TV advertising is projected to be virtually flat — with a 0.3% CAGR (to $72.2 billion) — as is cinema, growing at a 0.8% CAGR (to $12.5 billion). Meanwhile, U.S. transactional VOD revenue hit $4.5 billion in 2018 and will increase at a 5.4% CAGR to $5.9 billion in 2023, PwC estimates.

PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019–2023 report, the 20th installment in its annual series, was compiled by partners and professionals in the firm’s entertainment and media practice.

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