Internet streaming service Netflix has passed a major hurdle in its quest for video dominance: its worldwide subscriber count is higher than Comcast’s US numbers.
Netflix announced the impressive accomplishment in its quarterly earnings call. The company added more than three million subscribers in the first three months of 2010 alone, bringing its total to 23.6 million. The exact number of current Comcast subscribers isn’t known, but has been steadily declining: in the fourth quarter of last year they lost 135,000 viewers for a total of 22.8 million.
Barring a huge influx of cable customers, the numbers make Netflix the largest video subscription service in the U.S. (Less than a million Netflix customers reside in Canada, the company’ only foreign market.) Cable companies all over the country are feeling the pinch as more and more households drop expensive cable contracts for Internet-based alternatives.
Netflix isn’t resting on its haunches, either. In addition to an ever-widening array of Netflix-compatible smartphones, tablets and set-top boxes, the company continues to make aggressive content deals with partners like CBS and Lionsgate. Netflix is even entering the production game, making rivals of HBO and Showtime with its first original programming – Social Network director David Fincher’s new series House of Cards will be exclusive to the service.
Of course, comparing Netflix to Comcast is hardly apples to oranges. Most of Netflix’s subscribers pay less than ten dollars a month, whereas the average cable bill is more than $100. Comcast isn’t exactly hurting, either: while its television subscribers continue to dwindle, it adds more and more voice and Internet connections every quarter, increasing its total revenue substantially.
And Netflix isn’t the only one entering the content game. Comcast’s merger with NBC-Universal is in its final stages – the Q1 2011 results will be the first to combine the infrastructure giant’s financial data with the radio and television mainstay.
Netflix’s primary competitor, Hulu, continues to lag behind. In February Hulu CEO Jason Kilar predicted that the number of subscribers to the $8 Hulu Plus service would pass one million this year. Again, that’s not a straight comparison, because Hulu’s free service is watched by millions and generates revenue via advertising.
As the economic slump continues into its fourth year and the country’s high-speed Internet infrastructure becomes more well-established (thanks in part to Comcast itself) we can expect to see more and more TV consumers make the switch to a digital consumption model.
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