Netflix Stock Falls After Verizon Announces Disney Plus One-Year Giveaway

Todd Spangler

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Netflix investors, already skittish about the looming entry of Disney and Apple into the competitive streaming space, pushed the stock down as much as 4% in morning trading Tuesday. The drop came after Verizon announced a deal with Disney to offer Disney Plus for 12 months free to all unlimited wireless customers and new Fios broadband and 5G home wireless internet customers.

Shares of Netflix closed at $266.69 per share Tuesday, down 4.1%. Disney’s stock closed up 1.6% for the day, to $132.40 per share.

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Verizon says it has about 50 million — and growing — U.S. wireless customers on unlimited plans who will be eligible to get Disney Plus free for one year.

In reporting mixed results for the third quarter last week, Netflix tried to downplay competitive pressure it expects from the launch of Disney Plus (Nov. 12) and Apple TV Plus (Nov. 1), saying in its letter to shareholders that the new services may cause “some modest headwind to our near-term growth.”

CEO Reed Hastings, on the company’s Oct. 16 earning video interview, insisted that “fundamentally, there’s not a big change here,” noting that Netflix has competed with Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video for a decade. All the streaming players “are competing with linear TV,” Hastings added, and asserted that the subscription VOD services don’t really compete with each other as much as traditional pay TV.

The debate over how Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming play will affect Netflix has been playing out ever since Disney announced it was terminating its movie licensing pact for the pay-TV window with Netflix (covering the U.S. and Canada) in 2017.

Analysts who are optimistic on Netflix’s outlook have bought into the narrative that the SVOD market isn’t a zero-sum game.

“We remain bulls on the Netflix story as the OTT opportunity globally still appears materially underpenetrated and the entrance of Disney+ is likely to accelerate the trend away from traditional pay TV,” Pivotal Research Group analyst Jeff Wlodarczak wrote in a research note last week following the earnings announcement. Netflix “has a massive head start on potential competitors… Our view is that very few players can (or will) be able to keep up with NFLX content spend levels and that ultimately this will be a 2-horse race (NFLX and Disney) where both horses can win.”

For Q3, Netflix slightly undershot domestic subscriber growth targets for Q3, but the miss was not nearly as bad as the previous quarter. The company posted revenue up 31% year-over-year and touted a 16.5% increase in average revenue per customer (ARPU) for its U.S. streaming customer base.

For the fourth quarter of 2019, Netflix forecast 7.6 million global paid net adds, with 600,000 in the U.S. and 7.0 million for the international segment. Wall Street had been pegging Netflix to add as many as 9.3 million net new paid subscribers (2 million U.S., 7.3 million overseas), and some analysts suggested the streamer was low-balling expected subscriber growth given the new competitive set.

Last month, Netflix’s shares dipped after Hastings acknowledged that he saw “tough competition” coming from new entrants in the streaming wars. “While we’ve been competing with many people in the last decade, it’s a whole new world starting in November… between Apple launching and Disney launching, and of course Amazon’s ramping up,” Hastings said at a conference in Cambridge, England. (The “whole new world” comment was intended to be a cheeky reference to Disney’s “Aladdin.”)

On Monday, Netflix announced plans to raise another $2 billion through a debt offering, which would bring its long-term debt load to over $14 billion.

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