Netflix Set to Raise Prices

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  • Netflix is preparing a sequel unlikely to be a hit with its subscribers. The Internet video service is about to raise its prices for the first time in three years to help pay for more Internet video programming such as its popular political drama “House of Cards.”

    The increase, to take place sometime before July, will hike prices by $1 or $2 per month for new customers. The company’s nearly 36 million current subscribers will continue to pay $8 per month for at least the next year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a Monday interview.

    “When we look at the shows and movies that we will be able to get if we have a bigger budget, it’s exciting,” Hastings told The Associated Press. “We want to make the service better and better so more people will join.”

    Netflix announced the looming price increase as part of a solid first-quarter earnings report.

    Financial pressures have been mounting on Netflix as it grapples with the rising costs of licensing compelling video for its service. The company has been spending more to compete against traditional cable-TV channels such as HBO and Showtime, as well as technology companies such as Amazon.com Inc., Hulu.com, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., which are planning to buy more Internet video programming from Hollywood studios.

    “I think they need to raise the price to remain profitable,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said of Netflix.

    Amazon recently raised the price of its Prime service, which includes an expanding Internet video library, from $79 to $99 annually.

    Investors evidently like the prospect of Netflix bringing in more revenue. Netflix’s stock surged $23.01, or 6.6 percent, to $371.50 in extended trading after the company announced its plans.

    Price increases pose a risk for Netflix. The Los Gatos, California, company was stung by a customer backlash in 2011, when it boosted rates by as much as 60 percent for U.S. customers who wanted to continue to subscribe to both its Internet video and DVD-by-mail services.

    Netflix lost about 800,000 subscribers after the 2011 pricing change was announced, rattling investors so much that the company’s stock plunged more than 80 percent before starting to rebound in August 2012. The shares hit a new peak of $458 last month before sliding amid investor concerns that some technology stocks had soared too high, too quickly. Netflix’s market value nearly quadrupled last year.

    The upcoming price increase is coming in a much different situation than the last one. Besides giving current subscribers an extended grace period, Netflix has more firmly established itself as the Internet’s equivalent of HBO with an expanding slate of programming that can only be found on its service.

    The economy also is in better shape than three years ago, lessening the pain to people’s pocketbooks, said S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi.

    “The timing may not be as precarious as it was last time,” Amobi said. “They designed it to do the least amount of damage and protect themselves with potential upside.”

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