A button for launching the Netflix application is seen on a remote control in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on April 25, 2019.
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
There’s a big money question haunting Netflix.
In recent years, the streamer has spent big on flashy, blockbuster-style action movies like “The Gray Man” and “Red Notice,” which ran the company $200 million each. The films are the first steps in bids to spark event-level franchises. But they’re costly, and it’s unclear how impactful they have been for Netflix’s bottom line.
Meanwhile, the platform’s smash hit “Stranger Things,” a supernatural thriller with horror undertones, has become a clear cultural touchstone. The series, which just released its fourth season, has inspired Halloween costumes and videogame versions of the monster-filled alternative universe.
While the show has a similar budget to these high-octane action flicks — around $30 million per episode, or more than $200 million per season — its success has led some in the industry to question whether high-budget features are worth Netflix’s investment.
Netflix’s streaming rivals have begun to shift their own content strategies in order to spend less on direct-to-streaming film content. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said Thursday his company has been unable to find an “economic value” in producing big-budget films for its streaming services.
“We’ve seen, luckily, by having access now to all the data, how direct-to-streaming movies perform,” Zaslav said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call. “And our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming movies … is no comparison to what happens when you launch a film in the motion picture, in the theaters.”
Netflix doesn’t often release films in theaters, unless it’s seeking Academy Award eligibility, so it budgets for movies knowing that its only option for recouping spend is through subscription growth.
That’s why analysts have pointed to the horror genre as a potential avenue for Netflix.
The horror genre, in particular, typically comes with lower production costs, making these kinds of films ideal for the box office as they often rake in significantly more in ticket sales than they cost to make.
Blumhouse and Universal’s “Get Out” cost just $4.5 million to produce and went on to generate more than $250 million at the global box office.
And while “The Gray Man” is set to be developed into a franchise, Peter Csathy, founder and chairman of advisory firm Creative Media, suggested Netflix is overlooking franchise opportunities in horror that could save the company hundreds of millions per film.
“Scream,” “Insidious,” “Halloween” and other horror film series have won over fans of the genre, as low-budget alternatives to more expensive franchise endeavors like Fast and Furious, Star Wars, Marvel or Lord of the Rings.
“The production costs are a sliver, a fraction, a small fraction of what it is for these huge bets that are made,” he said. “And why not go for an inexpensive sure thing that hits your targeted demo? Why not put your money there, rather than doing these big prestige plays?”
Plus, Csathy added, the target audience for the horror genre also happens to be young — the demographic advertisers and streamers want to tap into.
Netflix has seen success from past horror releases including its “Fear Street” trilogy and has a number of Netflix Original releases in the genre including “No One Gets Out Alive” and “There’s Someone Inside Your House.”
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush, suggested Netflix could get more for its money by sticking with a lineup of horror and rom-com projects, both of which tend to be relatively low-budget. With more modest budgets, missteps aren’t as big of a deal.
“The cool thing about low budget is you can make mistakes,” he said. “Big budget, you just can’t make any. If you screw up, you’re screwed. So which is riskier, a $150 million movie or three $50 million movies?”
Part of the scrutiny on Netflix’s content spend stems from the lack of clear metrics around the financial performance of streaming-first shows and movies.
Box office tallies for theater releases and TV ad revenue are tried-and-true metrics. With streaming-only platforms, viewership data varies from service to service and paints an incomplete picture for analysts trying to determine how a film or television show has actually performed.
A bill upwards of $200 million for a film like “The Gray Man” is harder to explain when there’s no visible financial gain at the end of production, like studios see in box office ticket sales. Streaming subscribers pay flat monthly or annual fees to access all available content. Netflix argues its content keeps users on the platform and handing over subscriber fees.
For Netflix, the push into big-budget movies is a way to burnish its image and quiet criticisms that it churns out mediocre content. The company has shored up its balance sheet, is cash flow positive and has a three-year window before a significant portion of its debt matures, giving it some wiggle room to spend.
It’s unclear how much Netflix spent per film for its “Fear Street” trilogy, and there’s limited data around its performance on the platform. But Nielsen ratings estimated that “Fear Street 1994” generated 284 million viewing minutes during its first week on the service and “Fear Street 1978” tallied 229 million minutes. It is unclear how the third film, “Fear Street 1666” performed.
What’s more, the fourth season of “Stranger Things” has become just the second Netflix series to cross 1 billion hours viewed within the first 28 days of availability. Of course, comparing Netflix’s films to its television series is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but it’s the best data analysts have access to as long as the company keeps quiet about content spend and success.
Many entertainment experts have tried to crunch the numbers on how streaming hours translate to revenue, retention and, ultimately, the strength of Netflix’s business. But much of how Netflix decides what to greenlight and what to cancel remains a mystery to analysts.
Based on Netflix’s own data, “The Gray Man” amassed more than 88 million hours in worldwide viewing during its opening weekend on the service, 60 million fewer hours than “Red Notice” pulled during the same period last November. “Red Notice” stayed in the top spot of Netflix’s top 10 list for 12 days, while “The Gray Man” was usurped after just eight days.
As of Friday, the film holds the fourth spot on the list behind “Purple Hearts,” “Tower Heist” and “Age of Adaline.”
So, was “The Gray Man” worth its $200 million price tag? It appears to have have hit some behind-the-curtain metric for Netflix, which is moving forward with a sequel and a spinoff.
“Netflix, obviously has the data and the methodology that they believe is accurate, to determine what is this success at Netflix and what isn’t,” said Dan Rayburn, a media and streaming analyst. “If [‘The Gray Man’] had bombed by their definition of bombing, whatever that is, we don’t know, they would not have announced an expanded deal.”
As for how Netflix makes its content choices, Rayburn says that while data is not currently widely available, that could change once the streamer enters the ad market.
“Whether they want to give us data or not, we’re gonna get more data as the years go on, because the advertising side,” he said. “That’s gonna help us better understand content.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Universal is the distributor of the Halloween franchise and “Get Out.”
Ford’s supply chain problems include blue oval badges for F-Series pickups
A Ford F-150 pickup truck is offered for sale at a dealership on September 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
DETROIT – Recent supply chain problems for Ford Motor have included a small, yet important, part for the company and its vehicles – the blue oval badges that don nearly every vehicle for its namesake brand.
The Detroit automaker has experienced shortages with the Ford badges as well as the nameplates that specify the model, a Ford spokesman confirmed to CNBC. The Wall Street Journal first reported the problem, including badges for its F-Series pickups, on Friday, citing anonymous sources.
The issue is the latest is a yearslong supply chain crisis that has ranged from critical parts such as semiconductor chips and wire harnesses to raw materials and now, vehicle badges.
The Journal reported a Michigan-based supplier called Tribar Technologies that has made badges for Ford in the past had to limit operations in August, after disclosing to Michigan regulators it had discharged industrial chemicals into a local sewer system.
A message seeking comment from Tribar was not immediately answered. Ford declined to comment on whether Tribar’s limited operations were connected to the automaker’s name-badge shortage.
A spokesman also declined to comment on how many vehicles have been impacted by the problem.
The report comes after Ford on Monday said said parts shortages have affected roughly 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles, primarily high-margin trucks and SUVs, that haven’t been able to reach dealers. Ford also said at the time that it expects to book an extra $1 billion in unexpected supplier costs during the third quarter.
The announcement earlier this week, including a pre-release of some earnings expectations, caused Ford’s stock to have its worst day in more than 11 years.
Separately, Ford on Thursday announced plans to restructure its global supply chain to “support efficient and reliable sourcing of components, internal development of key technologies and capabilities, and world-class cost and quality execution.”
Bed Bath & Beyond’s merchandise problems will make it hard to pull off a turnaround this holiday season
A person exits a Bed Bath & Beyond store in New York City, June 29, 2022.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Bed Bath & Beyond is betting on a drastic change in strategy and well-recognized brands to revive its struggling business.
But the retailer’s strained relationships with suppliers of products such as air fryers and stand-mixers – some of which were missing from shelves two holiday seasons ago – could leave stores without hot items once again. Out-of-stock products could cripple Bed Bath’s already-declining sales and push the company toward bankruptcy.
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Bed Bath is fighting to win back customers as it contends with a leadership shakeup, a mountain of debt and the aftermath of a meme-stock frenzy fueled by activist investor Ryan Cohen. On top of that, tensions with merchandise suppliers grew as the company’s problems worsened, according to former executives who recently left the company. They declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak about internal discussions.
Chief Executive Mark Tritton, hired in 2019 to oversee the company’s previous turnaround effort, got ousted by the board this year. Bed Bath’s merchandising chief was also pushed out. Chief Financial Officer Gustavo Arnal, who was integral in lining up a new loan for Bed Bath, died by suicide earlier this month. The company is now led by an interim CEO and interim CFO.
On a call with investors in late August, two days before Arnal’s death, company leaders announced the fresh financing and revealed a new merchandising strategy that heavily relies on national brands to get more people into stores. Under Tritton, Bed Bath launched and tried to grow nine exclusive brands. Bed Bath now intends to sharply scale back those private labels – including discontinuing several.
Bed Bath has merchandise from its remaining store brands to fill shelves. It has deals with direct-to-consumer brands, such as mattress maker Casper, and is trying to court more of them. Yet to deliver on its new plan, Bed Bath must secure steady shipments from brands many shoppers recognize.
Bed Bath leaders say that the strategy shift has been well received. Interim CEO Sue Gove said in August that she’s even received thank you notes from vendors.
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“As previously shared, we are committed to delivering what our customers want, driving growth and profitability, and strengthening our financial position. We recognize the vital importance of our supplier partners and our team is working continuously with them, where support has been enthusiastic and high, particularly with our largest partners,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
“They want us to win, by supporting the assortment changes previously announced to create the best experience for our shared customers.” Bed Bath plans to give an update on its vendor relationships and strategies when it reports fiscal second quarter earnings next week, she added.
Over the past two years, however, Bed Bath has tested vendor relationships by making late payments, pushing aggressively into private labels and losing shoppers. Those tensions have intensified as financial troubles mounted, according to the former Bed Bath executives.
Make or break
A customer carries a shopping bag outside a Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. store in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Logan Cyrus | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Vendor relationships can make or break a retailer. Typically, suppliers ship goods and get reimbursed weeks or months later. The terms can change, however, if a retailer shows signs of financial distress – sometimes pushing a vendor to shorten the payment window, require cash on delivery or halt shipments.
Bed Bath has already agreed to tougher payment terms and advance payments for some suppliers, the company said in public filings. Company leaders acknowledged in a call with investors that it was managing vendor relationships on a week to week basis.
Tension with vendors is often a major reason retailers are pushed toward restructuring. Debt-burdened Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September 2017, and later liquidated, shortly after its suppliers demanded cash on delivery ahead of the holiday season. Other retailers, such as appliance chain H.H. Gregg and electronics store RadioShack, suffered a similar fate as they struggled to keep shelves stocked and burned through cash due to vendors’ tightened payment terms.
One factor working in Bed Bath’s favor is that it works with a vast number of vendors, and if needed, could replace one that wouldn’t ship to the retailer. Retailers like Toys “R” Us, as well as sporting goods chain Sports Authority – which liquidated as part of a bankruptcy filing in 2016 – were heavily reliant on very few suppliers to stock their shelves.
Bed Bath already had a significant debt load prior to the new financing. The retailer has a total of nearly $1.2 billion in unsecured notes – with maturity dates spread across 2024, 2034 and 2044 – which are all trading below par, a sign of its financial distress. In recent quarters, the company said it burned through significant amounts of cash. Despite this, it pressed ahead with an aggressive stock buyback plan that added up to more than $1 billion in repurchases.
The funding announced in August is expected to provide Bed Bath some breathing room and buy it some grace from vendors. But even before the company needed a loan, it lost standing with some of its suppliers, according to the former executives. Bed Bath has tussled with big-name vendors over terms of payment, and executives grew frustrated with smaller shipments of popular products, while seeing other retailers with more of that merchandise – and sometimes exclusive versions.
During the 2020 holidays, air fryers ran low across Bed Bath’s stores. KitchenAid stand mixers, a top item on Christmas lists and wedding registries, were out of stock. The few vacuums and hair styling tools from Dyson that arrived at stores quickly got shipped to online shoppers, leaving store displays bare. Yet at Amazon, Target and Best Buy, those same products were available – and in some cases, even at buzzy promotional prices.
KitchenAid parent company Whirlpool and Dyson didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Customers carry bags from Bed Bath & Beyond store on April 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Vendors and licensees, likewise, grew concerned by the pace of Bed Bath’s changes – particularly as the retailer launched its own brands of bedding, kitchen utensils and more. As some brands and manufacturers saw Bed Bath pare down orders quarter after quarter, they looked to other stores and websites.
The uneasy relationships exacerbated Bed Bath’s supply chain woes during the first two years of the pandemic, when all retailers coped with temporarily shuttered factories, congested ports and a shortage of truck drivers. The company lost $175 million in sales during the three months ended Feb. 26 as several items that were advertised in circulars were out of stock.
Vendors, which had limited supply, had to pick and choose where to send their hot products. As sales declined sharply at Bed Bath’s namesake stores, it had a harder time getting those items – such as Dyson’s hair styling tools or Keurig’s coffee makers– that were available at retail rivals, according to the former executives.
At company meetings, Bed Bath’s small shipments became a frequent theme – with merchandising leaders urging buyers to go to vendors and ask for more. There were also internal concerns that Bed Bath & Beyond was losing its clout and its relevance, the former executives said.
Bed Bath’s troubles have grown in recent months. Its stock has fallen about 50% this year, its market cap now at about $565 million.
About 60% of total net sales come from Bed Bath’s stores, but its footprint is shrinking. Last week, the company announced the first wave of approximately 150 store closures of its namesake brand. Including Harmon and BuyBuy Baby stores, the company went from nearly 1,500 stores at the end of the first quarter in 2020 to fewer than 1,000 stores at the end of the same period this year. As of February, Bed Bath had roughly 32,000 associates, including approximately 26,000 store associates and about 3,500 supply chain associates.
Meanwhile, the first wave of holiday merchandise has arrived at stores, including autumn wreaths, pumpkin-print kitchen towels and other fall-themed decor. Much of the merchandise at stores is from Bed Bath & Beyond’s private brands, such as budget-friendly home line Simply Essential.
During a CNBC visit in recent days, Bed Bath’s flagship store in New York City was full of clues that the retailer may not have enough of the hottest items. A Dyson display had six vacuum models – but only one type available for purchase. A display for French cookware company Le Creuset showed off Dutch ovens in many colors, but only had bright orange ones in stock.
Only one stainless-steel, step-on SimpleHuman garbage can, which retails for $149.99, was boxed and ready to be carried away. However, there were small plastic garbage cans from Bed Bath’s owned brand, spread across multiple rows – selling for $3 each.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.
GM to close reservations for electric Hummer pickup, SUV after topping 90,000
Production is now set to begin at the former Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, less than two years after GM announced the massive $2.2 billion investment to fully renovate the facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.
Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors
DETROIT — General Motors will close reservations for its electric GMC Hummer pickup and the forthcoming GMC Hummer SUV after more than 90,000 of the vehicles were reserved, the company said Wednesday.
Closing the reservations is a way for the automaker to attempt to fulfill the current list of reserved vehicles, which extends out to at least 2024. The number of reservations is notable because of the starting prices of the vehicles, which range between roughly $85,000 and $111,000.
GM said it plans to close reservations for both vehicles starting Thursday. Anyone wanting to reserve one of the electric trucks must do so by the end of Wednesday.
GM has been slowly ramping up production of the Hummer EV pickup since earlier this year. As of the end of June, the company had sold less than 400 of the vehicles. The SUV version is expected to begin arriving to dealers and customers starting in early 2023.
The 2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV and 2022 GMC Hummer EV sport utility truck, or SUT.
Duncan Aldred, global head of GMC, said production of the SUV should happen more quickly than the pickup, which was the first consumer vehicle to feature GM’s next-generation Ultium batteries and vehicle platform.
“We knew it would be a slow ramp. But next year, when you look at the calendar year, I think you’ll see a normalized year,” he told CNBC last week at the Detroit auto show. “When we produce SUV, that should get into stride right away … Next year is a big year for Hummer EV, both truck and SUV.”
GM’s decision follows Ford Motor shutting down reservations for its electric F-150 Lightning pickup after hitting roughly 200,000 units. It also had shut down reservations for the electric Mustang Mach-E crossover, but they have since reopened.
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