Netflix's subscriber numbers fall off from 2020's boom

With 208 million customers, growth is slowing as the competition gets stronger.

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Richard Lawler
April 20th, 2021
 Bridgerton
PHOEBE DYNEVOR as DAPHNE BRIDGERTON and REGE-JEAN PAGE as SIMON BASSET in episode 101 of BRIDGERTON LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

At this time last year, pandemic lockdowns rolling out around the world caused Netflix subscriptions to spike, as the company added 16 million subscribers in three months. Now it's numbers for the same period in 2021 are out (PDF), and it grew by a total of 3.98 million customers worldwide, which executives said reflected "the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays." 

Despite the slowing subscriber additions, Netflix is getting more profitable, as net income spiked to $1.7 billion in the first quarter alone — in in 2019 its annual profit was $1.87 billion

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Netflix

That so many people (now 208 million) already have Netflix is one issue, but the problem of not finding new stuff that we want to watch on Netflix and the growing threat of high-quality competition from Disney+, HBO Max and others is potentially much more serious. Subscriber numbers in North America only grew by 448,000, although that doesn't tell us how many people cancelled subscriptions as shows like WandaVision peaked and price hikes rolled out.

According to Netflix, one of its biggest movie debuts of the quarter was Outside the Wire with 66 million viewers by its count, while other big names like the third To All The Boys I've Loved Before movie notched 51 million. Now it's looking forward to the rest of the year with features like Red Notice with Gal Gadot, The Rock and Ryan Reynolds, as well as new seasons of The Witcher, Money Heist and You.

Update: Speaking to an analyst on the earnings call (included below) CEO Reed Hastings said "we would never roll something out that feels like turning the screws" when it comes to the company's testing ways to crack down on password sharing. Regarding the possibility of expanding into video games, COO Greg Peters said "we’ve actually launched games as part of our licensing and merchandising effort and we’re happy with what we’ve seen. There’s no doubt that games are going to be an important form of entertainment and important modality to deepen that fan experience so we’re going to keep going."

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