Innovate or Die

Back in January 2007, Netflix announced a bold plan to bring internet video to television sets. At the time, few believed they would be successful, but such skepticism was nothing new.

The “death” of Netflix was predicted first in late 2002, not long after its IPO. Wal-Mart was entering the DVD-by-mail business, and who could ever compete with the all-powerful Wal-Mart? In 2006, its “death” was again predicted, when both Apple and Amazon announced plans to start movie-downloading services. Surely Netflix could not survive such a threat.

But survive they did, only to find new doubters after announcing their plans for streaming video. Netflix shares had dropped 12% by mid-January of 2007 and analyst downgrades ensued. The streaming video service would cost Netflix an estimated $40 million in 2007, and such a hefty sum was deemed “too much. “

“There’s clearly a strong demand for watching movies,” said Brian Pitz, an analyst with Banc of America Securities. “But the company’s earnings are going to be more negatively impacted,” said Mr. Pitz, who has a sell recommendation on Netflix shares.

At the time, Netflix’s biggest threat was said to come from (don’t laugh) Blockbuster. Blockbuster’s online rental service was “taking off,” adding over 700,000 subscribers in the prior 2 months.

Blockbuster’s CEO had this to say about their closest competitor: “We have everything that Netflix has, plus the immediate gratification of never having to wait for a movie.”

What happened next?

  • Just 3 years later, Blockbuster would file for bankruptcy protection. Netflix stock has advanced over 5,500% since their streaming video service was announced in January 2007, versus a loss of 99.8% for Blockbuster.

Image of returns of Netflix and Blockbuster

  • Since its IPO in 2002, Netflix is up over 15,000%, an annualized return of over 40%.

Image of returns of Netflix since IPO in May 2002

  • At $79 billion, Netflix is now valued at more than Time Warner, an incredible statistic considering it was less than $5 billion just a few years ago.

Comparison between Netflix and Time Warner from 2005 to 2015

Netflix’s rapid ascent in recent years seems easy and inevitable in hindsight, but in truth it was anything but. There were many struggles along the way, and many more doubters than believers. Innovation may be inevitable at the macro level, but at the micro level it is a conscious decision that is fraught with difficulty. For innovation is inherently risky – it must be made with the knowledge that 1) short-term results are likely to suffer and 2) it may take much longer than you think to payoff.

But to maximize long-term growth, and to remain competitive, innovate you must. If you don’t continually disrupt yourself someone else surely will. Innovate or die.


Related Posts:

Being Good at Suffering

Big Winners, Big Drawdowns

To sign up for our free newsletter, click here.

This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an offer to provide advisory or other services by Pension Partners, LLC in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The information contained in this writing should not be construed as financial or investment advice on any subject matter. Pension Partners, LLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any or all of the information on this writing.



Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of four award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Mr. Bilello is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors and previously held positions as a Credit, Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms.

Mr. Bilello holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and a Member of the Market Technicians Association. Mr. Bilello also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.


Comments are closed.