This July 17, 2017, file photo shows a Netflix logo on an iPhone in Philadelphia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Rourke

This July 17, 2017, file photo shows a Netflix logo on an iPhone in Philadelphia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Rourke

Netflix adds 16 million global subscribers partly during start of pandemic

Netflix shares edged up by less than one per cent in Tuesday’s extended trading

Netflix picked up subscribers in Canada to add nearly 16 million global customers during the first three months of the year, helping cement its status as one of the world’s most essential services in times of isolation or crisis.

The quarter spanned the beginning of stay-at-home orders in the U.S., Canada and around the world, a response to the coronavirus pandemic that apparently led millions to latch onto Netflix for entertainment and comfort when most had nowhere to be but home.

Netflix more than doubled the quarterly growth it predicted in January, well before the COVID-19 outbreak began to shut down many major economies. It was the biggest three-month gain in the 13-year history of Netflix’s streaming service.

The numbers — released Tuesday as part of Netflix’s first-quarter earnings report — support a growing belief that video streaming is likely to thrive even as the overall U.S. economy sinks into its first recession in more than a decade.

Over the past year, Netflix’s growth in the U.S. and Canada had slowed significantly. But the pandemic seems have to have reversed that trend for the moment. Netflix added 2.3 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada in the first quarter, up from 1.9 million at the same time last year.

However, it’s unclear from the way Netflix discloses its numbers how many of the new subscribers are from Canada. The company briefly provided figures at the end of 2019 which shed light on its customer base across the country, but it now prefers to lump its operations into regions.

The company has previously said Canada represents roughly 10 per cent of its North American subscriber base, which would suggest it grew its subscribers here by 230,000 in Canada during the quarter, which compares to 125,000 paid sign-ups during the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2019.

“We’re acutely aware that we are fortunate to have a service that is even more meaningful to people confined at home, and which we can operate remotely with minimal disruption,” Netflix said in a statement.

READ MORE: ‘Every action counts’: B.C. reports 1 new death, 25 new cases of COVID-19

Investor optimism about Netflix’s prospects propelled the company’s stock to new highs recently, a sharp contrast with the decline in the broader market.

Netflix’s shares initially surged in after-hours trading after the first-quarter report came out, then drew back. The strengthening dollar will likely depress the company’s revenue from outside the U.S., including some of its fastest growing markets.

That’s one reason Netflix’s revenue only climbed 17 per cent from last year to US$5.8 billion, even though it ended March with nearly 183 million worldwide subscribers, a 23 per cent increase from the same time last year. Netflix earned US$709 million in the first quarter, nearly triple from last year.

Netflix shares edged up by less than one per cent in Tuesday’s extended trading to US$437.37, leaving them below last week’s record high of US$449.52.

Even though it faces plenty of competition, Netflix appears better positioned to take advantage of the surging demand for TV shows and movies largely because of its head start in video streaming.

Since beginning its foray into original programming seven years ago, Netflix has built up a deep catalogue that can feed viewer appetites even though the pandemic response has shut down production on many new shows.

That stoppage could hurt Netflix as well, although analysts at Canaccord Genuity believe its video library will serve as a “content moat” that can keep most competitors at bay.

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, reassured investors in a video interview that he doesn’t foresee troubles with Netflix’s future releases, because seasons of TV series are produced in full, long before they hit the service, unlike many traditional network TV programs.

“Our 2020 slate of series and films are largely shot and are in post-production remotely in locations all over the world, and we’re actually pretty deep into our 2021 slate,” he said.

Sarandos pointed to production of “The Crown,” a dramatic series about the Royal Family, has already filmed and is “in finishing stages” for a release later this year.

But there will be a few smaller hurdles along the way as Netflix’s production gets accustomed to the impacts of COVID-19.

The company said that home isolation in countries across the world has made it impossible to produce dubbed versions of some of its original programs “in Italian and some other languages” because the voice talent can’t access the required equipment. Those affected titles would be released in April and May, but a representative was not certain which films or TV series would be impacted and couldn’t say whether the French-language translations were being produced.

Netflix said it hopes to get voice actors set up in their homes to record future dubs.

Among its biggest challengers in the market is Walt Disney Co., whose recently launched streaming service is also stocked with perennial classics, especially for children who have even more free time than usual.

That’s one of the big reasons Disney’s service has amassed 50 million subscribers and why Netflix is basking in another resurgence in popularity. Netflix predicted it will add 7.5 million subscribers from April through June. That’s nearly three times more than its average springtime gain of 2.7 million subscribers during the past seven years.

“Since we have a large library with thousands of titles for viewing and very strong recommendations, our member satisfaction may be less impacted than our peers,” Netflix boasted in its report.

— with files from The Associated Press

David Friend, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusMovies and TV

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
PQB crime report: Vandals strike in Parksville, prowler lurks in Nanoose Bay

Oceanside RCMP receive 276 complaints in one-week period

The intersection of Despard Avenue and Moilliet Street, where a child was struck and injured in November 2020. (Mandy Moraes photo)
High-traffic Parksville intersection to get temporary 4-way stop

City staff to monitor effectiveness of traffic-calming measure at Despard and Moilliet

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Housing crunch or not, it’s illegal to live in an RV in Nanaimo

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Nanaimo flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

A motorcycle instructor going through a traffic cone course. (Photo courtesy of BC Traffic Services)
B.C. Traffic Services reminds drivers to share the road with motorcyclists

36 riders are killed in 2,400 crashes involving motorcycles on B.C. roads every year

Most Read