Netflix CFO: Company Won't Need to Raise Money Near-Term Despite Content Spending

Netflix - Sign - 2011
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"We will evaluate this based on the portfolio and how it is performing," David Wells tells the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference about the online streaming company's original content strategy.

Netflix doesn't expect to have to raise more money in the near future, CFO David Wells told an investor conference in New York on Wednesday.

Last November, the video-streaming and DVD subscription service agreed to sell $400 million in stock and convertible notes to bolster its cash on hand. Wells said he "felt better" after making the transaction. Since then, Netflix has spent big on new content rights deals as well as getting into the arena of original production on shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Hemlock Grove and the new season of Arrested Development. The spending spree has led some analysts to speculate that the company would need to raise more money and dilute its stock, but Wells told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference there aren't any plans for that at the moment.

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Acknowledging that "there is an open question about originals," and how much cash will be needed, Wells also portrayed the foray into original programming as an experiment that will need further study. "We are taking a measured approach," he said. "We will evaluate this based on the portfolio and how it is performing."

In response to a later question about what might keep costs down, Wells said there was a healthy supply of content suppliers, that content was to some degree "fungible," and that "there isn't content we have to have."

In the past two years, Netflix has seen a big change in the types of content popular on its streaming service. Whereas once as much as 70 percent of viewing was tied to movies and 30 percent to TV shows, now the figures are reversed. Wells says he doesn't expect the integration of original programming to further accelerate a move to serial dramas and comedies, and believes that it is important to have a range of fare from indie films to documentaries to bolster satisfaction among "behavioral clusters," or niche audiences.

At the conference, Wells also acknowledged that the DVD delivery business has passed its peak. He says that some folks, including film aficionados and those in rural areas will still be attracted to the physical product. "We want to preserve a high quality service," he says about that aspect of the business, which has traditionally been one of the company's most profitable. "We don't anticipate that it will grow," he adds.

Long-term, despite the attention that platforms like Amazon Prime have been getting thanks to rich rights deals, he sees "TV Everywhere" as the greater competitive threat. He points to the U.K. as an example, where Netflix entered the market in January and competed against Amazon. "They had a much more established brand," he says. "In seven months, we are ahead of them. It may be that Sky is a bigger competitor in the grand scheme of things."

Wells also told the audience that the churn rate has stabilized and that Netflix prefers to think about net subscriber additions. As for those signing up, he says a third of those who are re-joining Netflix. "There's a 40 percent chance that someone who leaves the service will come back," he says.

There's one thing, though, that Netflix hasn't been able to yet figure out. Wells acknowledged that the recommendation engine isn't perfect, particularly when it comes to adapting itself to multiple members of a household who may each have vastly different tastes.

Blaming the complexity of humanity, he commented, "It’s frustrating to mathematicians that you still get a better recommendation at a cocktail party than the engine (we use)."

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