Did Netflix Pass HBO in the U.S.?


Netflix shares were still up about 18 percent in after-hour trading Monday night, just hours after the company reported that it added more than 3 million subscribers worldwide and eclipsed $1 billion in revenues in the first quarter.

Netflix likes to compare itself to premium networks like HBO, so how did it compare?  Depending on how one looks at the numbers, Netflix either surpassed HBO’s U.S. subscriber base, or came pretty darn close to it.

Netflix ended the first quarter of 2013 ith 29.17 million total U.S. streaming subscribers, and 27.91 million paid subscribers. Analyst Deana Myers confirmed SNL Kagan's estimate that HBO ended 2012 with about 28.7 million U.S. subscribers, a figure that does not include free subscribers. SNL Kagan, she noted in an email exchange, does not provide estimates on HBO’s combined paid-plus-free subscriber base.

So, when comparing HBO and Netflix on an apples-to-apples basis in the U.S., HBO still has about 790,000 more paid U.S. subscribers.  When factoring in Netflix’s free U.S. subscriber base (and not knowing how many free subs HBO has), Netflix has an edge of 470,000 over HBO.  

But no matter how those numbers are sliced and diced, Netflix continues to make solid subscriber gains as it pursues the kind of original programming that has figured in prominently not just at HBO, but at Starz and Showtime too.  Whether Netflix should be qualified as  a “cable network” is an item for debate for another day. 

Netflix, meanwhile, is also developing a model that traditional premium networks don't have to worry about --  a streaming tier tailored for families. In addition to its standard service, which allows two simultaneous streams for $7.99 a month,  Netflix told investors on Monday that it will “shortly” introduce a four-stream plan in the U.S. that will run $11.99 per month. 

But Netflix doesn’t anticipate the new price plan to reel them in, noting that it "expects fewer than 1% of members to take it.”