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Netflix TKOs Blockbuster this Quarter

You can’t call a two horse race until both horses have crossed the finish line. 

fightWhen Netflix released earnings about a week ago, things looked good, surprisingly good,  but a comparative assessment with movie rental competitor Blockbuster was missing.  Absent that comparison it was impossible to say whether Netflix gained ground individually, or the movie rental business did well as a whole.

After the close of markets Thursday, Blockbuster released their earnings.  Now the asterisk can come off Netflix’ returns.  The results are in.   It’s official.  In the battle for movie rental dollars, investors can officially chalk the quarter up as a win for Netflix and a loss for Blockbuster.  

Overall, Blockbuster reported a net loss of $35m (20cents a share) on revenue of $1.24b for the 3rd quarter.  That’s down even lower than a loss of $24.7m (15c/share) for the same period last year.  Factoring in a loss of the fiscal year, Blockbuster has lost money for the majority of the last decade.

While Blockbuster saw revenue from online activities increase $79.2m, more telling were the churn numbers for online business.  On the quarter, despite a more generous financial result, they actually lost 500k subscribers from the Total Access program leaving them at 3.1m customers (3.6m last quarter).

In contrast to Blockbuster, Netflix returned income in the black at 23cents a share.  The company also saw subscribers grow for the quarter by a margin of 24% relative to the same period last year.   In total , they closed the quarter with just over 7m subscribers, more than double Blockbuster Total Access users  (Blockbuster has more than 20m registered members but only a fraction use the mail order Total Access service that competes directly with Netflix).

Whether Netflix has won the battle, or won the war, is debatable. At least for now, however, Blockbuster’s heavy spending to fuel the competition seems to be done with.  Blockbuster instead is focused on trying to clean up their operations. As the carefully chosen words in their press release noted, their goal is to “strike an appropriate balance between the growth of [their] subscription service and enhanced profitability.” 

Then again, divesting properties and cleaning up operations was the tag line last May too. That was quite a while back and they’re still going with the same soundbytes.

In the long term, both businesses knowingly face challenges and future competition from new digital delivery technologies.  Their competition with each other could (and probably will) flare up again too.  But for now, Netflix is still David beating Goliath. 

On the quarter the box score was this:  Netflix revenue up. Blockbuster down.  Netflix customer growth up.  Blockbuster down.   It was pretty black and white.

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