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Netflix hits 125 million subscribers worldwide

Traditional Hollywood may be annoyed with Netflix, but the rest of the world keeps signing up. The company reports better-than-expected member additions.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings discusses the company's financials in an investor letter every quarter.
Image by Claire Reilly/CNET

Netflix's march to worldwide domination is tramping along. 

The streaming video service hit 125 million members in its first quarter, the company said in a better-than-expected earnings release Monday.

The blowout quarter comes at a time of heightened annoyance at Netflix among some in the traditional filmmaking industry. Last month, Steven Spielberg said movies that have mere "token" theatrical runs -- as those from Netflix do -- shouldn't be in the running for Oscars. Also last month, the board of the prestigious Cannes film festival banned Netflix films from award competition, prompting the company to pull out of screening anything at the festival at all. 

Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos dismissed the idea that the company would be compromising its strategy of releasing its films online to stream the same day that it puts them in select theaters. 

"Defining distribution by what room you see it in is not the business we want to be in," he said. French rules to compete in Cannes would have meant that Netflix's films couldn't be streamed for three years after their release. The company said in a letter to shareholders that it "would never want to do that to our French members." 

Sarandos also rejected speculation that Netflix is moving toward offering news-related content. "We're not looking to expand into news beyond short-form and long-form documentary," he said, adding that interview programs like a recent series with David Letterman are topical entertainment, not news. 

Meanwhile in the television world, Netflix buried the hatchet with a longtime enemy. Last week, Comcast agreed to include Netflix subscriptions in more of its cable packages, opening up a way for Netflix to connect with hard-to-reach potential new members. The two waged a public battle against each other in 2014 over net neutrality. 

Netflix said Monday these deals benefit it with "more reach, awareness and often, less friction in the signup and payment process." The fact that Netflix earns less money from a bundled subscriber is offset by the fact that bundled members don't cancel as much.

The company said its international subscriber base increased by 5.5 million members to 68.3 million, better than the 4.9 million additions the company predicted. In the US, Netflix added 2 million streaming customers, for a total of 56.7 million, beating its 1.5 million guidance.

Looking ahead, Netflix expects to add 1.2 million streaming members in the US and 5 million internationally in the current quarter. Netflix predicted 79 cents per share in earnings. On average, Wall Street analysts who track Netflix expected 98 cents.

Overall, Netflix reported a profit of $290 million, or 64 cents a share, compared with $178 million, or 40 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue climbed 40 percent to $3.701 billion.

Analysts on average expected per-share profit of 64 cents -- compared with Netflix's guidance for 63 cents -- and $3.69 billion in revenue.

Shares were up 6.4 percent at $327.47 after hours. 

First published April 16, 1:32 p.m. PT.
Update, 3:11 pm PT: Added executive comments during analyst interview. 

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