Netflix Nails It

 | Apr 23, 2013 | 7:33 AM EDT  | Comments
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Stock quotes in this article:

nflx

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amzn

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aapl

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msft

Could there be a more perfect result for a stock called Netflix (NFLX), a stock with only six analysts in favor of it and 30 against? Could the stars align more closely for this stock, which has, at its core, a group of haters that live to be short the darned thing, not unlike those who shorted Amazon (AMZN) in the $100s three years ago?

Netflix exists because people want to watch programing when they want on the device they want. Netflix succeeds because it is inexpensive. Netflix thrives because of the change in programming on cable and how much more people like cable shows than they do network shows except for a couple enduring comedies and some longer-running dramas.

But because it stumbled and because it seemed to be out of money when it dropped below $100, it had become hated by people who either didn't understand it or dug in their heels rather than declaring victory as they might have on the long side.

In short, it went from loved to hated faster than I have ever seen a stock travel that distance except the speed with which it is now loved again by owners and still needs to be loved by analysts. Hence how it could have such a huge move last night.

Let's go over what Netflix did right that the Street didn't expect.

First, when it screwed up and created that screwy plan to force adoption to online, the owners and the analysts figured that was the end of Netflix -- that users would be so angry they would switch to Amazon or Apple's (AAPL) iTunes. What people didn't understand, though, was that the Web was adapting so fast to high-speed at the same time that the tablet had been born that Netflix was simply too cool a product not to have. And when you compared it to cable, it's a real bargain, especially because, other than sports, who the heck cares when you watch something.

Second, the mea culpa of management was dissed by Wall Street, but the customers loved it. The customers came right back. That wasn't in the playbook.

Third, the company, while spending far more than it had, was thought to be incapable of raising the money that it needed to survive. But these are more bountiful times than analysts realize. In a sense, Netflix was still one more company bailed out by the hated Ben Bernanke, who is supposed to be more like a European central banker and make money tight to appease the ideologues, even as the discrediting of austerity is a daily event.

Fourth, analysts and hedge funds are simply not believers that content can ever move a needle. They forget that HBO, the model they love that will soon be pushed behind by Netflix's accelerating growth, grew on the back of "The Sopranos" the way "House of Cards" spurred Netflix. It's not supposed to happen, but it did.

Fifth, analysts didn't see the symbiosis with the new kind of television profit center, the long-form arc series, where you can't just crack into it. You need to start from the beginning, and Netflix is riding the success of everything from "Breaking Bad" and the "The Walking Dead" to "Mad Men" and "Downton Abbey." It doesn't hurt that the programming crosses all ages and can be watched in binge fashion.

Finally, the rich people who are analysts don't understand the new frugality -- that folks don't want to pay for cable or for Amazon or iTunes. Netflix is their bargain.

All of these cut in favor of the Netflix bulls and eviscerated the Netflix bears at precisely the time when the bears were supposed to win. It's a textbook failure of typical security analysis, and it's the handiwork of a brilliant exec, Reed Hastings.

Oh, and one more thing: Maybe now, as a $12 billion company, Netflix will at last be seen as the potential growth engine acquisition for Microsoft (MSFT) or Apple, although the former is too go-it-alone and the latter is just too arrogant to ever figure it out.

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