Quarantine and chill: Netflix is seeing unprecedented levels of video streaming, as millions of people are homebound during the COVID-19 outbreak and looking for a diversion. And investors are gaining confidence that Netflix will be one of the few entertainment companies to see gains amid the pandemic.
Netflix shares shot up 8.4% on Monday, bucking broader bear market trends as the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 3% for the day. The renewed bullishness came as AT&T said in a business update Monday regarding its COVID-19 response that Netflix data traffic across its U.S. networks reached record levels this past weekend.
“We saw a dip in traffic [on March 23] from Netflix after all-time highs on Friday/Saturday,” the telco said.
At this point, with Netflix “in a unique position to offer fresh content to a global audience that is hungry for in-home entertainment,” analysts at LightShed Partners raised estimates for the company’s first-quarter 2020 subscriber adds. The firm said Q1 global net adds could reach 10 million — over 40% higher than Netflix’s previous guidance of 7 million. LightShed also suggested Netflix is seeing a boost in upgrades from the standard two-stream $12.99 per-month-tier to the four-stream Family Plan ($15.99 monthly in the U.S.) as multiple members stuck at home .
“With the inability to go out to the movies and linear TV reducing content output (no sports, late-night TV curtailed, reality TV shut down, etc), we believe Netflix usage is disproportionately benefiting among streaming video services as they have a steady flow of fresh original content,” the LightShed team led by Rich Greenfield wrote in a research note.
Other Wall Street analysts also have identified Netflix as a beneficiary from the coronavirus crisis.
Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this Sunday, acknowledged that viewing on the streaming service is up but he didn’t quantify the lift. “The most important thing you can do stay home. So we’re proud to be part of that, which is trying to make that stay-home experience a little more bearable for folks, a little more enjoyable, even, and give some families something to gather around, something for people to talk about, making us feel a little less isolated while we are being physically isolated,” Sarandos said.
While Netflix — like every other Hollywood studio and network — has suspended all of its productions worldwide for now, Sarandos said the company has banked plenty of original content for the next several months. “We don’t see any disruption in our output over the next few months,” he said, but acknowledged it would become an issue of the COVID-19 lockdowns continue through later in the year.
On another coronavirus-related front, Netflix took the lead in pledging to reduce video traffic usage on European networks by 25%, responding to the EU’s request to ease the internet bandwidth strain amid governmental stay-at-home directives. Netflix has since expanded the 25% bandwidth-reduction initiative to India and Israel. In those areas, Netflix says it’s temporarily eliminating the highest-quality HD and Ultra HD video encodes in order to conserve bandwidth during the crisis.
Sarandos, in the CNN interview, said that “the visual quality for the consumer will be barely noticeable at the rates that we’re talking about in Europe.”
For now, Netflix has not indicated that it will clamp down on video bit rates in North America (and neither have other streaming video providers). AT&T, in its update Monday, said total data traffic transmitted between its network and other ISPs tied record highs on Friday, March 20, driven by heavy video streaming traffic; the company said, “We continue to manage this traffic flow effectively.”