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'Tiger King,' Coronavirus Boost Netflix Earnings

Netflix gained 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter of the year, thanks in part to coronavirus and Joe Exotic. (John Horn/LAist)
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It's hard to imagine two more dissimilar reasons for its financial success but Netflix can thank docu-series Tiger King and the coronavirus pandemic for bringing in nearly 16 million new subscribers around the world, more than double what had been forecast.

Netflix is the most prominent major media company to report financial results during the coronavirus lockdown, and its earnings reveal a lot about how we're killing time while sheltering in place.

In announcing its first quarter results Tuesday, the streaming giant said it had added 15.77 million new subscribers, bringing its total paid membership to 183 million. Wall Street analysts had estimated Netflix would report about 7 million new subscribers.

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In its latest earnings report, the company wrote shareholders,

"By helping people connect with stories they love, we are able to provide comfort and escape as well as a sense of community during this pandemic. So our focus has been on maintaining the quality of our service while our employees around the world adapt to working from home."

Nielsen said that Netflix subscribers watched more than 5 billion minutes of the docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness in its first week on the air, which was about 50% more than the streamer's second-most popular digital show, Ozark.

With many people in the U.S. rarely leaving their homes, overall streaming numbers have skyrocketed well beyond Joe Exotic. The average American consumer now watches eight hours of streaming content daily, twice the amount of time they spent watching before the pandemic, according to the market research firm OnePoll.

Netflix knows the growth in streaming can't last, saying, "We expect viewing to decline and membership growth to decelerate as home confinement ends, which we hope is soon," the company said in its earnings report.

Thanks to free introductory offers for new services, the streaming marketplace has grown much more crowded, and digital entertainment options also are multiplying.

Netflix stock has surged this year, and the value of the Los Gatos-based company is now greater than Bank of America, PepsiCo and the Walt Disney Co.

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With theaters closed, studios have rushed movies that debuted earlier this year to video-on-demand platforms. In some instances, as with NBCUniversal's Trolls World Tour and Disneys' upcoming Artemis Fowl, distributors are bypassing planned theatrical releases entirely.

Nascent streaming service Disney+ has signed up 50 million subscribers.

Quibi, the new short-form video platform for mobile phones, said it had more than 1.7 million app downloads.

NBCUniversal's ad-supported streaming site, Peacock, will launch July 15.

In one of the biggest upcoming launches, WarnerMedia said Tuesday it will debut its new streaming site, HBO Max, on May 27.

The new subscription service will have an estimated 10,000 hours of content, far more than Disney+ or Apple TV+. It will cost $14.99 a month and include Warner Bros. movies (like Joker), reruns of broadcast series (including Friends and Big Bang Theory), and shows from Warner channels including TNT, TBS, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Aside from Tiger King and Ozark, Netflix's other hit shows include Love is Blind and Money Heist. Netflix also has streaming and international rights to the ESPN Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance, which debuted Sunday to strong ratings.

As with every content company in Hollywood, however, Netflix has been forced to halt production on an array of projects, except for animated shows, which can be produced remotely. At a certain point in the near future, it won't have many fresh offerings to attract new subscribers or retain current ones.

Maybe by then, people will be heading back to the multiplex.