Netflix execs have regularly insisted that there’s no way the company would introduce an ad-supported service.
Netflix CFO Spencer Neumann, speaking Tuesday at an investor conference, took a slightly more open tone: He noted that the subscription streamer doesn’t currently have any plans right now to introduce an ad-supported VOD plan, but he didn’t rule it out at some point in the future.
“It’s not like we have religion against advertising, to be clear,” said Neumann, speaking Tuesday at Morgan Stanley’s 2022 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “But that’s not something that’s in our plans right now… We have a really nice scalable subscription model, and again, never say never, but it’s not in our plan.”
During the session, Neumann was asked about Netflix’s thinking about a cheaper, ad-based tier after Disney announced plans to rollout an AVOD plan for Disney Plus starting late in 2022 in the U.S. “It’s hard for us to kind of ignore that others are doing it, but it now doesn’t make sense for us,” the CFO said. About Disney Plus with ads, he added with a chuckle, “I don’t think I’ll get it.”
Several of Netflix’s biggest rivals offer ad-supported plans, including Hulu, HBO Max and Paramount Plus. Neumann said some other services “are going low-price, but I think they’re also losing a lot of money.” Netflix is focused on building a profitable business that in terms of free cash flow was breakeven last year and is projected to be free cash flow positive this year, he said.
More than 90% of Netflix’s subscriber growth in 2021 came from outside the U.S. and Canada. At the same time, Neumann said, the company gained about 1.2 million paid net adds in the fourth quarter of 2021 in “UCAN,” its strongest growth in three years in the region.
That said, Netflix’s price increases in the U.S. and Canada in the first quarter of 2022 will slow down growth, Neumann acknowledged. As for the decision to increase prices, he said, “at the end of the day, we’re pricing for what we believe is the value we provide.”
Overall, Neumann said, there’s still plenty of runway for the streaming giant to continue to grow. Netflix is “small relative to every kind of metric we look at, whether it’s the hundreds of billions of dollars spent directly on direct-to-consumer entertainment” or nearly 1 billion broadband households worldwide (excluding China). In the U.S., Netflix has less than 10% share of TV time, per Nielsen estimates, he noted.
If Netflix can “keep increasing value and drive… a reasonable monthly subscription price, that’s a pretty large and healthy revenue model, and we think we can drive pretty big profit pools against it,” Neumann said. As of the end of 2021, Netflix had 221.8 million total paying subscribers worldwide.
Neumann was also asked about Netflix’s decision to suspend streaming service in Russia amid that country’s attack on Ukraine.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t lead with, it’s just a horrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to all that are impacted in Ukraine in that part of the world,” he said.
In addition to the issues of sanctions and challenges with payments, Russia is “a pretty complex regulatory market” and then there’s “obviously the moral” question involved in continuing to do business in the country, Neumann said. Russia represents less than 1% of Netflix’s total revenue, so “relative to the opportunity… we decided to suspend our operations there,” he said.