About that 'great Netflix purge'

May 1, 2013: 12:46 PM ET

The loss of hundreds of titles isn't slowing Netflix's momentum.

130326112017-netflix-movies-620xa

FORTUNE -- One of the most frequent complaints about Netflix (fair or not) is the supposed paucity of titles available for streaming. That complaint is about to get louder and more frequent because about 1,800 titles will be pulled because Netflix's (NFLX) licensing agreements for them are expiring today.

It's being called "The Great Netflix Purge" and "Streamageddon" (sometimes by the same publication). Titles from Warner Bros., MGM, and Universal will vanish from the service today. Netflix is pooh-poohing it, of course, sending out statements to argue that it's all part of the "churn" that Netflix has always been subject to as it lets some licensing deals go while signing new ones. The company told The Verge that the number of titles the streaming service carries isn't all that important anyway. Netflix's mission, the statement said, is not to be a "broad distributor," but rather an "expert programmer."

Part of that expert programming, of course, is the original shows Netflix is producing, like Arrested Development and House of Cards. As for its catalog, the company accurately notes that even as many titles are expiring, new ones are being added. Even today, some 500 new titles are being made available. This "ebb and flow happens all the time," the company said.

MORE: Facebook co-founder's bid to replace email

But this is more ebb and less flow than usual, one that viewers are much more likely to notice, and complain about.

None of this, though, seems to be stopping the company's momentum. Netflix announced a week ago that it had attracted more than 2 million new domestic subscribers in its first quarter, substantially besting analysts' guesses. Another million were added in foreign markets. Analysts attribute the gains largely to the original programming, particularly House of Cards. A large majority of the people who signed up for a free trial in order to watch that series have -- so far -- stayed with Netflix. The company now boasts 29.2 million U.S. customers. CEO Reed Hastings says his goal is for that number to reach 90 million. And the service does, after all, offer about 75,000 titles to choose from.

The markets don't seem particularly fazed by the "purge," either. Shares are down today -- an off day for the market -- but only by about 1.5%. At their midday price of $212.65, shares are still 30% higher than they were just before the company announced its earnings and subscriber numbers a week ago. Shares have risen by 161% over the past year. It would seem that the company has put its stumbles of a couple of years ago fully behind it.

Join the Conversation
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.