Netflix boosts subscriber numbers to nearly 140 million

Actress Yalitza Aparicio arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere of Alfonso Cuaron"s "Roma" at American Cinematheque"s Egyptian Theatre on December 10, 2018 in Hollywood, California. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Roma was backed by Netflix, which is spending heavily to make its own movies and television

Netflix closed the year with more than 139 million paid subscribers, almost tripling its membership base in just five years.

The streaming giant said it added 8.8 million customers in the three months to 21 December, up more than 6% from the prior quarter.

Revenue in the quarter jumped 27% from 2017 to almost $4.2bn (£3.2bn).

Television viewers in the US now spend about 10% of their time on Netflix, it added.

The data offered investors a more detailed look the habits of Netflix customers, as the firm seeks to explain how its massive spending on content is paying off.

Analysts estimate that it spent more than $13bn on movies and shows this year.

Those include titles such as Roma, Bird Box and the reality show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

“Our multi-year plan is to keep significantly growing our content while increasing our revenue faster to expand our operating margins,” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders.

Analysis

Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, San Francisco

In its letter to shareholders, there’s a candid passage about where Netflix’s real competition lies.

It said it faces greater competition from people watching clips of video game Fortnite over those watching rival entertainment provider HBO.

“When YouTube went down global for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time,” it added.

It’s what makes predicting Netflix’s future so interesting – they’re not so much in the entertainment business, but the eyeballs business.

You, the consumer, have more things than ever to look at, or interact with, and competition for Netflix will only get fiercer in 2019.

In the letter, took time to big up its successes – Birdbox, which it estimates will be watched by 80 million households within four weeks of its release, and a Spanish-language exclusive, Elite, that has attracted more than 20 million.

That’s all positive news, but we’ll learn more about the health of the company in three month’s time, when we find out if consumers have a problem with Netflix’s recent price hike in the US and some other countries.

As for today’s earnings, they are rather unremarkable: with the firm disappointing Wall Street on some measures (revenue) but outperforming expectation on others (subscriber growth). As I write this, shares are down – but I’d expect the price to recover quickly.

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