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Netflix Q2 Earnings Preview: Are They Merely Trying to Change the Slow-growth Conversation with Games and Merch?

Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix has warned investors coming into Tuesday's second-quarter earnings call that subscriber growth will be especially light, expanding by as little as 1 million customers, a key metric that compares badly with the 4 million users worldwide added in the quarantine-fueled second quarter of 2020. 

Given the recent fixation of the Netflix narrative on slowing subscriber growth, some high-profile members of the equity analyst community wonder if the streaming company's announcements of new business ventures into merchandise and games are merely attempts to change the conversation. 

Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said that some of his peers, “knowing second-quarter results and the third-quarter guide will be received as weak," believe that "Netflix leaked this [gaming] story now in order to change the narrative, distract, divert attention from the core business.” 

In the same note to investors, Juenger insisted he isn't in that group. “In our strong view, Netflix management has never behaved in a way where they would be expected to engage in such short-term diversions to try and impact/protect the stock price.”

Cowan analyst John Blackledge has also rated Netflix as "outperform," believing the best of 2021 will come toward the end of the year. “Management has also called out a content slate weighted toward the second half of 2021," he told investors. 

However, since Netflix announced the hiring for well-traveled former EA and Oculus gaming veteran Mike Verdu last week to run its fledgling online video games initiative, there has been second-guessing of the games strategy in the equity analyst community. 

And it's not surprising that the man who is perhaps Netflix's biggest bear, Wedbush's Michael Pachter, has been among the most vocal of critics. 

"The idea that they're going to launch games next year is crazy," Pachter said while appearing on Bloomberg's Take Stock. "There's no chance they get anything made in the next year."

Netflix leaked last week to Bloomberg that it will add a gaming feature within the next year, providing it at no additional cost to subscribers. 

"I don't see how Netflix has a prayer of pulling this off," Pachter said. 

For starters, Netflix hasn't built out a gaming development team, he pointed out.

"They hired a head coach. They have no players," said Pachter, who also noted the limited amount of gaming DNA among Netflix's upper management team, and the fact that few media companies have succeeded in launching gaming divisions. 

Disney, he said, has tried and failed three times.

Pachter is also puzzled by what intellectual property Netflix could lend to a gaming service add-on. 

"I don't see 'Bridgerton' the game as being all that compelling," he quipped. 

And he also wondered how, from a basic perspective of game control, it might all work. 

"Your TV remote has up, down and sideways motion. That's it. You can't play anything but solitaire," Pachter said.

Finally, the Wedbush analyst took aim at Verdu's frequent employment shifts, suggesting that based on pattern, he'll be out the door in Los Gatos in about two years. 

In the meantime, Pachter added, Netflix will "piss away a billion dollars on this, maybe, more likely two, three hundred million dollars."