The global streaming giant today boasts some impressive stats: 104 million subscribers worldwide, up 25% from last year and almost quadruple from five years ago. Its series and movies account for more than a third of all prime-time download Internet traffic in North America. Its more than 50 original shows garnered 91 Emmy Award nominations this year, second only to premium cable service HBO.
But there’s another set of numbers that could eventually spell trouble for the company’s breakneck growth. Netflix has accumulated a hefty $20.54 billion in long- and short-term debt in its effort to produce more original content. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company hopes more new shows will capture more subscribers, its primary revenue driver. It’s also under pressure to keep spending on new shows as streaming rivals such as Amazon and Hulu expand their own slates of original programming.
The result is that Netflix is burning through cash at a growing clip. The company is pouring money into expensive prestige projects and expects to spend at least $6 billion in content this year. Its net cash outflow this year is forecast to grow to as much as $2.5 billion, up from $1.7 billion last year. Reflecting its growth, Netflix recently moved its Southern California headquarters into a 14-story building in Hollywood.
So far, investors have expressed approval of Netflix’s spendthrift ways. They are betting that debt financing in the near term will create growth and yield big results down the road on the theory that you have to spend money to make money.