Netflix CEO Reed Hastings On COVID-19 Subscriber Surge: People “Want To Be Able To Escape And Connect”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the company’s management team is still “feeling the wind” as they manage through COVID-19, but he sees the blockbuster subscriber numbers in the first quarter as a validation of the mission.

“We don’t know anything more than anyone else on those big elements,” he said, alluding to larger trends of the virus and its effects on society and the economy. “We’re in the same uncertainty that everyone else is. The thing we are certain of is the internet is growing. It’s a bigger part of people’s lives, thankfully. And people want entertainment. They want to be able to escape and connect, whether times are difficult or joyous. We’ve had an increase in subscribers in March that’s essentially a pull-forward of the rest of the year.”

Netflix earlier Tuesday reported a blockbuster quarter in terms of new subscriber additions, growing by 16 million members around the world to reach just shy of 183 million.

The CEO added that the company’s “guess” is subscriber numbers will get lighter as the year progresses, even in the usually fertile fourth quarter.

Content chief Ted Sarandos addressed the meteoric success of Tiger King and other unscripted fare in the period. He said he doesn’t anticipate making significant adjustments to the flow of content, even as a way of preserving programming during the total shutdown of production.

“We cont to experiment with all kinds of release strategies,” he said. Love is Blind racked up strong viewing in the first quarter as a staggered (i.e., not simultaneous, binge) release, he noted. Too Hot to Handle, which premiered this month, is on track to be Netflix’s most-viewed competition show ever and it had all episodes released at once. “We keep testing it,” Sarandos said. “But I don’t see us moving away from that meaningfully.”


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