Netflix has had some hits with audiences over the past few months.

The bloodthirsty Korean series "Squid Game" for example or the film "Don't Look Up" with Hollywood superstars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep.

Nevertheless, the video service remained slightly below its own forecast with its subscriber numbers in the past quarter, as can be seen from the annual report presented on Thursday after the market close.

And the outlook for the first quarter of the new year was even weaker than expected.

The share price then fell by almost twenty percent in after-hours trading at times.

Roland Lindner

Business correspondent in New York.

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In the fourth quarter, the company increased the number of its subscribers by 8.3 million to almost 222 million.

Three months ago it had predicted an increase of 8.5 million customers.

For the first quarter, the forecast is now for 2.5 million additional subscribers, analysts had hoped for more than twice as much.

As one reason for the weaker-than-expected outlook, Netflix cited that many of the upcoming new movies and TV series would not be released until late in the first quarter. Beyond this seasonal factor, the company also addressed fundamental challenges. It admitted that subscriber growth has not yet returned to pre-Corona levels. Netflix has been seen as one of the winners of the pandemic and has seen an onslaught of new customers amid the initial lockdowns. But then a kind of corona hangover came and growth slowed down considerably. The company itself admitted that the pandemic appears to have anticipated some future growth. Now it said that effect was still being felt.In addition, a generally difficult economic environment in some regions of the world such as Latin America is also leaving its mark.

The competition never sleeps

Netflix also spoke more clearly than before about increased competitive pressure.

The competition in the streaming market has become tougher.

Probably the fiercest rival is Disney+, the service launched by the entertainment group Walt Disney around two years ago, which according to the latest figures had 118 million subscribers.

There are also a number of other up-and-coming video offerings such as HBO Max. In the past, Netflix played down the threat posed by other platforms. Half a year ago, the company wrote in a quarterly report: "We are primarily competing with ourselves, for our service to improve as fast as we can.”

Netflix struck a slightly different note this time, saying the additional competition might hamper its own development.

At the same time, however, the company pointed out that it was also continuing to grow in those regions where there were new streaming providers.

It still sees "enormous scope" for further growth.

Netflix's competitors are investing aggressively in their film and television programming.

Raj Shah of consulting firm Publicis Sapient said Disney spent $33 billion on content last year, compared to Netflix's $17 billion.

However, he does not necessarily see this as a decisive factor for success and advises Netflix to put “quality over quantity”.

Far more expensive than Disney+

In any case, despite growing competition, Netflix feels in a position to demand more money from its customers.

A few days ago, a price increase was announced on the North American market.

The price of the standard subscription has increased from $13.99 to $15.49.

It wasn't until the end of 2020 that the subscription fee had increased, at that time by a dollar.

Disney+ currently costs $7.99, just over half what Netflix costs.