No matter how you measure it, Netflix is gaining on Comcast. Has it surpassed the U.S. cable giant in subscribers? It depends on who you read. In the first quarter, the movie-by-mail juggernaut doubled its growth from a year ago, adding 3.6 million subscribers for a total of 23.6 million users. For The Wrap, that means "Netflix Takes the Crown: The Biggest Subscription Video Company," according to the headline.
Technically that's true only if you're talking about the U.S., in which Comcast has 22.8 million customers. It also requires that you exclude premium cable channels like HBO, which has 28 million subscribers. Over at CNET, Greg Sandoval was more conservative: "Netflix subscribers now equal Comcast's." He notes that Netflix's 22.8 million subscriber figure is the same as Comcast reported earlier this year. However, he points out an important trend: "The number of subscribers at Comcast is shrinking while Netflix's number is growing. Netflix added 3.3 million new subscribers from the fourth quarter and that number represents a 94 percent increase from the 1.7 million subscribers added in the same period a year ago."
But in the end, is it really even meaningful to compare the two companies? Robert Seidman at TV by the Numbers pours cold water on the comparisons:
Netflix is big and has nothing to be ashamed of. But it’s not “bigger” than Comcast even if it has a few more subscribers. In fact, where it counts, Netflix is much (much, much) smaller than Comcast.
Netflix had $706 million in revenue for the quarter or roughly $10/mo/subscriber. Comcast had over $9 billion in revenue in Q4, or about $132/subscriber/mo, so basically its an order of magnitude bigger than Netflix in terms of revenue and revenue per subscriber.
And that was before Comcast completed its acquisition of NBC Universal.