Netflix's Original Programming Will Not Make Any Difference

| About: Netflix, Inc. (NFLX)

Some folks are hoping that the Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) move into original programming will result in mountains of new subscribers. That's not going to work.

As I've written before, it is (literally) impossible to determine if any given piece of content will be successful or not. If it were so easy, every network would have all their slots filled with hits. Instead, there is an 85% failure rate on new shows. There's no reason to expect any different from Netflix.

As an example, let's take the new Kevin Spacey-David Fincher show "House of Cards". I fully expect this show to be terrific, given the talent involved. Netflix put up somewhere around $100 million to exclusively stream 26 episodes. That's $4 million an episode that will likely stream over 65 weeks (13 weeks consecutive for season one, then the second season premieres a year later). Let's say Netflix attracts new subscribers to the service just for this show alone, and they keep their streaming subscription the entire 65 weeks (15 months). Each new subscriber is worth $8 per month under the streaming plan, so Netflix will pick up $120 per subscriber over those 15 months. That means it will need to attract about 850,000 new subs just from this series to break even.

I'm making assumptions in a vacuum, of course. This assumes that none of them cancel prior to the end of the run, none of them cancel in the intervening months between seasons 1 and 2, and that they all cancel after the run. That's 850,000 new subs just to break even.

This will never happen, no matter how great the show is.

DIRECTV (DTV) attempted this by exclusively taking on a show with an established audience of over 3 million (Damages), and the company maybe picked up a few thousand new subscribers, making the move ultimately unprofitable, which is why DIRECTV doesn't do deals like that anymore. It couldn't get a show with an established fan base of 3 million to put up the money for a DIRECTV subscription! You'll note the company, which is incredibly transparent on every level, were rather tight-lipped about how the show performed. So despite the fact that DIRECTV literally has billions of cash on its balance sheet, and generates billions in free cash flow, it is moving in another direction. (Mind you, I believe the company should continue to pursue original programming, and do it en masse.)

So Netflix's strategy might attract a few thousand new subscribers. Certainly, in an intangible way, it helps with branding -- which is likely the intent behind this move. If Netflix can become the new premium programmer like HBO, then it might create the kind of subscription business HBO developed. But I do not see a direct analogy here.

HBO had deep pockets and many years to build an original programming brand, and HBO was led by one of the few visionaries in programming, Chris Albrecht, now doing the same thing with Starz, which is owned by Liberty Media (NASDAQ:LMCA). As I've pointed out, and so have many other SA authors, Netflix does not have the capital to pony up the big bucks for these shows on an ongoing basis.

Nevertheless, reality means nothing in terms of stock price. Netflix will likely continue higher for the time being, and you don't want to be on the short side of a freight train.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.