Netflix is facing a fight to stop as many as 750,000 UK subscribers defecting as its rival Disney takes back exclusive control of hits such as Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother and Sons of Anarchy to bolster its own service.
The streaming company, which last week forecast the lowest number of new global subscribers in the first quarter since 2010, has lost the UK rights to five popular titles to Disney+ this month, with more set to follow.
Analysts at the research firm Digital i estimate that the loss of the titles – which also include Prison Break and New Girl, with Homeland expected to follow soon – could cost Netflix UK as much as £90m annually if all of the 750,000 subscribers were to follow their favourite shows and leave.
Their report has identified this core of users as “high risk” of unsubscribing because a large proportion of their viewing was of these shows.
“The viewing to these six titles, five of which have already left Netflix, was significant in the UK,” said Ali Vahdati, the founder and chief executive of Digital i. “This means a significant number of subscribers will begin to question their Netflix subscription and look to the new home of their favourite content, Disney+.”
The UK is fast approaching peak Netflix, last year recording the lowest number of new subscribers since it launched a decade ago.
Digital i estimated that content licensed from Disney accounted for about 12% of the viewing of Netflix’s most popular content in the first quarter of last year, with the company removing nearly all of its top-ranking titles in the UK since then.
“Modern Family was the most streamed Netflix show in Europe in 2020,” said Vahdati, who has estimated that the loss of that show could have the biggest impact, with almost 270,000 subscribers deemed to be hardcore fans. “Our previous research showed that over half of Netflix’s top viewing was to major [Hollywood] studio content.”
As the streaming wars intensify, Netflix is expected to spend more than $17bn on content this year, an increase of a quarter over 2021. There will be an increasing focus on creating original productions as it attempts to replace TV shows and films licensed from third parties with its own content.
Last week, Netflix pointed to upcoming fare such as the Ryan Reynolds sci-fi film The Adam Project and the return of hit series Bridgerton and Stranger Things as attractions that would help it to pull in and retain subscribers.
At the same time, it increased the price of its monthly subscriptions in Canada and the US, its biggest market. UK subscribers saw prices rise last March as the company looks to fund its content budget in the face of ever-increasing spend by rivals.
Netflix is still the most popular streaming service in the UK, with an estimated 14 million subscribers as at the end of last year, ahead of Amazon at 12.3 million and Disney+ at 4.7 million, according to Ampere Analysis.