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Digital Entertainment

Netflix's 50 Million Subscribers Face a Flood of New Shows

Netflix’s second-quarter results popped out Monday afternoon, and here are the highlights: The company posted revenue of $1.15 billion vs. $837 million in the same period last year. Its net income hit $71 million, up from $29 million, and it now has more than 50 million customers worldwide—50.05 million, to be precise. Investors gave Netflix (NFLX) a pat on the back for increasing its subscribers at a healthy clip, sending shares 1 percent higher in after-hours trading.


Let’s step away from the numbers, though, and head to the second section of Netflix’s letter to shareholders (pdf), where the company discussed what it lovingly refers to as “Content.” After going on for a bit about its 31 Emmy nominations and the debut of a new season of Hemlock Grove, Netflix listed its cavalcade of coming shows:

“In the coming weeks, we will premiere the all new 4th and final season of The Killing and a new adult animated comedy BoJack Horseman. Also in August, we will release Mission Blue from the Oscar winning director of The Cove, Fisher Stevens.

“Reflecting the increasingly global nature of the Netflix service, we now have original series in production around the world, involving some of the best storytellers working in television and film today. Marco Polo, a historical adventure from Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein, is shooting in Kazakhstan and Malaysia. In New York there is Marvel’s Daredevil, the first of our original series from Marvel Television, as well as the already eagerly anticipated third season of Orange is the New Black; while in Baltimore, production is underway on the third season of House of Cards. In the Florida Keys, the creators of Damages (Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Todd Kessler) are shooting a dark family thriller with an ensemble cast led by Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Linda Cardellini, Ben Mendelsohn, and Norbert Leo Butz.

“Sense8, a mind-bending series from the Wachowskis (The Matrix trilogy, Cloud Atlas) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), began production in San Francisco last month, is now in Chicago, and will shoot in many international locations this year. In August, production begins in Los Angeles on Grace and Frankie, a comedy led by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston; and in Colombia, Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad, Robocop) will begin filming Narcos with an all-star international cast led by Wagner Moura.

“During the quarter, we announced our first ever talk show, hosted by Chelsea Handler, the popular comedian and best-selling author.”

OK, no one in their right mind should brag about being associated even loosely with Cloud Atlas. Fair enough. But beyond that, you have to feel gobsmacked after digesting Netflix’s list of shows. Whatever (AMZN) and Hulu are working on can’t match this in quantity or quality of talent. (Netflix has transported Coach Taylor to the Florida Keys. Think about it.)

Netflix has spent more and risked more to become a real competitor to HBO (TWX) and Showtime (CBS) in programming while maintaining a technology edge over everyone. When Netflix first set out on this strategy, it was easy to predict a bleak future in which the company would spend itself to death buying shows that no one watched. Netflix took a huge risk, although hindsight and the rising subscriber numbers are making it harder to remember just how gutsy the move was.

Neither Hulu nor Amazon seem as good at making or marketing their shows. Hulu’s shows tend to come off as amateurish, while Amazon’s are just hard to find and trapped in the company’s clunky interface. It’s unclear to me how either company will compete with Netflix over the long term unless they’re willing to go bigger and risk more.

Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. He is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (HarperCollins, May 2015). Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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