Earnings Call: Netflix CEO Hastings: ‘We’re Not (Totally) Immune To The Recession After All’

imageLooking at how the recession will impact Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chairman and CEO, opened the companies earnings call by ticking off all the various deals that it hopes will insulate the company from a drastic slide in growth. He touched on the $99 Roku movie player to content deals with cable nets like Starz and Disney (NYSE: DIS) Channel, as well as distribution arrangements with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), via Xbox. The company also plans to increase investment in streaming video rentals. In particular, Netflix is prepping an update of the “laptop-oriented viewing service” for Windows and Intel-based macs later this year. But given the pullback in consumer confidence, Hastings said that his July stance that the company would be immune to an economic downturn has been reversed, but his view is not completely dark. Hastings: “The recession means continued subscriber growth, but at a much slower rate. Q4 will be between 60 percent below what it was a year ago, to 6 percent above on the high end. The company also expects a small boost to revenues from subscribers who elect to choose Blu-Ray discs that adds a $1 surcharge to their membership.

Release (PDF) | Webcast (5:00 pm EDT) | Transcript (via Seeking Alpha)

On Display and subscriber growth: Hastings: No softening of display ad rates yet. But hoping that lower prices will ease the company’s financial burdens. Another analyst, pointing to retailers like *eBay* seeing a drop-off in business, Hastings said the company’s growth is trending 30 percent below, a significant slowdown.

Online vs. DVD: Growing adoption of Watch Instantly online feature. There is no easy way tell whether people watching online is leading those customers to reduce their DVD rentals. “The kind of person who is more likely to watch online is a different kind of person from those who prefer physical rentals. But it’s hard to tell.”

Stop the panic: Later on, Hastings asked investors “not to push to the panic button yet” and insisted that the business overall was still healthy. As for whether consumers will be willing to pay more for Blu-Ray and streaming — there’s no surcharge on the latter yet, as Netflix wants to wait until that business can attract more users — Hastings said that the platform expansion and the content expansion will ultimately make the difference.

Olympics impact: Looking back at what else, besides the general economic pressures, affected Netflix, Hastings noted that the Olympics broadcast tended to depress the amount of product coming from the studios. The Olympics also resulted in less rentals, as viewers were glued to coverage on NBC and its dedicated site, NBCOlympics.com.