Netflix added just four million subscribers in the first quarter and forecast only one million net additions in the current quarter as its earlier predictions that the pandemic would have a "pull-forward" effect on its growth came to pass.
The streaming market leader had 208 million subscribers as of the end of March, up 14 per cent year-on-year, but short of the 210 million level it had recently forecast it would reach.
Netflix added four times as many subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 as it did in the same quarter in 2021, while its forecast of a million additions in the April-June period compares with gains of 10 million in the same period last year.
In a letter to shareholders, the company attributed the more sluggish performance – which comes after a stellar, lockdown-assisted 2020 – to the disruption to normal growth patterns posed by Covid-19.
“We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays,” Netflix said.
“We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film line-up.”
While “some uncertainty” remains in the short term, in the long term “the rise of streaming to replace linear TV around the world is the clear trend in entertainment”, it said.
Revenue grew 24 per cent year on year, while operating profit and margin reached all-time highs.
Netflix said its most popular new title during the first quarter was Lupin, the French-language series starring Omar Sy, which was watched by 76 million households in the first 28 days on the platform.
Among other viewing figures released by the company, teen drama Fate: The Winx Saga – which was filmed in Ireland – was watched by 57 million subscribers in the first 28 days. Netflix's viewing metrics, which are not independently verified, count viewers who have consumed two minutes or more of a title.
“We anticipate paid membership growth will re-accelerate in the second half of 2021 as we ramp into a very strong back half slate with the return of big hits like Sex Education, The Witcher, La Casa de Papel (aka Money Heist), and You,” Netflix said.
Feature films destined for its platform include the finale to The Kissing Booth trilogy and two starry productions: Red Notice, with Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, and Don't Look Up, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep.