NEW YORK (AP/CBSDFW.COM) – Netflix shares plunged Tuesday after the one-time Wall Street favorite revealed a massive departure of subscribers angered by price increases and other questionable changes at rental service that was created to make entertainment a snap.
Netflix revealed late Monday that it ended September with 23.8 million U.S. subscribers. That’s down about 800,000 from June and far worse than anything that the company had hinted at before.
And it may get worse. Of its customer defections, Netflix said it expects more in coming months.
The exodus began after the company raised its prices by as much as 60 percent in July. Its website was flooded by letters from livid customers. Many people also canceled service, especially on the DVD-by-mail side. The company is betting that its future is in streaming video, and CEO Reed Hastings has said he expects Netflix’s DVD subscriptions to steadily decline, much like what has happened to AOL Inc.’s dial-up Internet service.
But Netflix bungled a spin off its DVD-by-mail service, giving it the name Qwikster and creating separate accounts for people who wanted both DVDs and movie streaming. By doing so, the company created what many perceived as a more complicated rental process at a company that began its meteoric rise with a new, easier way of searching for and finding entertainment effortlessly.
Netflix shares fell $42.65, or 35.9 percent, to $76.19 in morning trading Tuesday. The stock is down from more than $300 just 3 1/2 months ago. The last time the stock was trading so low was in April 2010, but that was during its steep ascent.
The results prompted a downgrade to “Neutral” from “Buy” from Citi Investment Research analyst Mark Mahaney on Tuesday, who also slashed his target price on the stock to $95 from $220. The analyst called the price increase and the abandoned plan to separate Netflix’s DVD business two “major execution errors.”
Netflix Inc. did report better-than-expected financial results for the third quarter, but that was drowned out by the din of subscriber cancellations, expense controls and a one-time tax benefit, said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter.
Pachter cut his target price to $82.50 from $110 on Netflix’s stock and kept his rating at “Neutral.”
California-based Netflix said it does not comment on stock movement or analyst reports.
Dallas-based Blockbuster, which was bought by Dish Network in April, recently announced a service that many thought would compete with Netflix. But many people were disappointed when it was unveiled in September. The service turned out to be something that is only available to Dish subscribers rather than the public at large.
(© Copyright 2011 CBS Local Media. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)