Commentary

Netflix Breaks Ground With Emmy Success

When it comes to Netflix recently, investors don’t appear to be consistent in the least. When a new “Arrested Development” season was released on the service, it received muted reviews. Netflix’s share price dropped markedly. And the media placed blame on the ho-hum reaction.

Maybe investors got spooked that the first wave of viewers would be disappointed and fill social media with all kinds of negative reaction that would hurt the Netflix brand. No question, though, the opposite seems to have taken place over the past month-plus.

Netflix is coy with numbers, but if it reports a larger-than-usual bump in subscriber growth next week, it would be hard not to attribute a chunk of that to “Arrested Development’s” rebirth.

Ted Sarandos, who oversees content at Netflix, joked recently that he hoped investors weren’t trading off what reviewers think. But if the money-movers were, it would seem logical that Netflix’s share price would have rocketed up Thursday thanks to Emmy nominations.

Netflix is in a position that HBO was in the late 1990s. HBO was looking to transform itself into a home for compelling original series that would attract subscribers who viewed it as only a destination for movies and boxing. Needless to say, it had monumental success.

With new competition, Netflix has known for some time – it started making noise it would challenge HBO a while ago – that it needs to gradually make original series a crucial part of its value proposition (along with holding exclusive rights). Producing series television is a house of cards, but Netflix seems to have found an impressive formula.

Emmy nominations on Thursday validated that. It was a watershed moment for the company, offering an endorsement for those who believe TV is now a platform-neutral experience. Someday, a show produced with a handheld recorder in the backyard and distributed on YouTube may find its way into the Emmy ceremony.

Yes, “Arrested Development” didn’t get a nomination for best comedy, but star Jason Bateman was nominated for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series. Meanwhile, “House of Cards,” had an extraordinary day with nominations for outstanding drama; outstanding lead actor in a drama (Kevin Spacey); outstanding lead actress in one (Robin Wright); and outstanding director for one (David Fincher).

Not to be overlooked is Netflix's “Hemlock Grove” got two lower-profile nominations, too.

“House of Cards” will face off against blue-chippers “Homeland,” “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” and “Downton Abbey.” While it is possible to get “Downton” for free on PBS, "House of Cards" is the only other content involved that doesn’t require a pay-TV subscription.

Investors who allegedly traded on reviews for "Arrested Development" would seem to have reacted enthusiastically with the slew of nominations. Netflix received glowing news coverage for receiving the first-ever Emmy nominations for shows launched solely online.

But, Wall Streeters seemed to react with a big so what. Shares were down for much of the day.

Maybe there was some profit-taking or other maneuvering only experienced investors understand. Maybe investors want to wait a few days for subscriber counts. But it was quizzical. 

Netflix surely hopes it wins some Emmys on Sept. 22. It likely will, but it probably doesn’t matter from a business standpoint. Just the shots of Kevin Spacey during the show on CBS and mentions of “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” will serve as a coup.

To be sure, the appreciation for shows by the insiders who vote on Emmys certainly doesn’t help draw viewers en masse. “Arrested Development" won best comedy when it was on Fox and then was cancelled. But Netflix doesn’t need a show to attract nearly as many viewers as Fox to be considered a success – if a show pulls in a million subscribers who then stick around, that can be material revenue.

With CEO Reed Hastings and Sarandos, Netflix oozes confidence. But did they really expect to receive Emmy nominations so soon? Believe it or not, they just might have.  

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