Netflix hints about global expansion

CIOL Bureau
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LOS ANGELES, USA: Six years after pulling the plug on a U.K. rental service to beat back competition at home, Netflix Inc offered a few clues on Wednesday about its resurgent ambitions to enter an unnamed international market later this year.


Netflix said last quarter that it would launch a small, streaming-only operation in one country in the second quarter, and learn from it before moving into other markets.

"We are focused on entering one country and seeing how we do. Because we are launching in the second half of the year I don't think we could do a second country this year," Chief Executive Reed Hastings told Reuters.

Hastings declined to identify the market but hinted at how a roll-out might happen.


"The big market for Hollywood content (after the U.S.) is Europe...Third is Asia. Fourth is the rest of the world," Hastings told Reuters. "Canada is and was an option. It's sort of international-lite."

Since launching its U.S. streaming service in 2007, Netflix has focused on piggybacking on devices with a large installed bases - Blu-ray DVD players, gaming consoles, PCs - and the international service will start the same way, he said.

"The biggest installed base is laptops. They are pretty ubiquitous," Hastings said when asked what user population the new service targets. And video game consoles, if you are talking about the most advanced countries, he said.


Hastings said Netflix content managers are cutting separate deals for the international territory leading up to the launch, which he will talk about publicly in September or October, but gave no word of how large the title selection will be.

Nor would he comment on whether the company faces any major competition in the new market, but indications are that Netflix expects little resistance to its initial foray.

"(The new service) is compatible with our (forecasts for a) global 11 percent operating margin," Hastings said.


Big difference

Netflix was the pioneer of online movie rental and a fast-growing darling of tech investors when it shuttered its U.K. DVD-by-mail service weeks before its 2004 launch to respond to a challenge by Blockbuster Inc and rumors that Inc would enter the space.

The company lost about $10 million in the aborted endeavor as well as short-term hopes for easy subscriber growth fueled by access to international markets.


After a grueling, years-long price war that seriously wounded Blockbuster, and claimed Movie Gallery as collateral damage, Netflix emerged stronger and bigger with a streaming option that is cheaper and easier to deploy abroad.

Movie Gallery, once the second largest store-based rental chain, lost market share to the battling online services and filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Movie Gallery is preparing to file again, according to the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

"The big difference is we were entering with DVDs only (in 2004)," Hastings said on Wednesday."It's streaming only (now). That's a big difference - no warehouses, no integration with the Royal Mail."


Another difference: Netflix has grown four-fold on a revenue basis - from $501 million in 2004 to a projected $2 billion this year.

"We are a lot bigger when we enter and streaming means less operational complexity - not having to figure out the mail for each country," he said.