Netflix hints at password sharing crackdown as subscribers fall

Netflix has hinted it will crack down on households sharing passwords as it seeks to sign up new members following a sharp fall in subscribers.

The number of households using the streaming service fell by 200,000 in the first three months of the year as it faced stiff competition from rivals. It was also hit after it raised prices in some countries and left Russia.

Netflix warned shareholders another two million subscribers were likely to leave in the three months to July. "Our revenue growth has slowed considerably," the firm told shareholders on Tuesday after publishing its first quarter results.

"Our relatively high household penetration - when including the large number of households sharing accounts - combined with competition, is creating revenue growth headwinds."

The streaming giant estimates more than 100 million households are breaking its rules by sharing passwords. Boss Reed Hastings previously described the practice as "something you have to learn to live with", adding that much of it is "legitimate" between family members. The firm also said account sharing had probably fuelled its growth by getting more people using Netflix.

But on Tuesday, Mr Hastings said it was making it hard to attract new subscribers in some countries. "When we were growing fast, it wasn't a high priority to work on [account sharing]. And now we're working super hard on it," he told shareholders.

The firm said payment plans it is testing to curb password sharing in Latin America could be rolled out to other countries. Since last month, account holders in Chile, Costa Rica and Peru must pay to add user profiles for people outside their household (the company currently allows people who live together to share their Netflix account).

Users can add up to two extra profiles for $2-$3 (£1.53-£2.30) a month each, on top of their regular fee. Netflix - which did not say how it would enforce the rule - said it was seeking a "customer centric" solution.

"The principle way we have is asking our members to pay a bit more to share the service outside their homes," said Greg Peters, Netflix's chief product officer. Dominic Sunnebo, an analyst at research firm Kantar, warned the plan could backfire at a time when consumers were looking for ways to save money.

"If the schemes to counter password sharing move too fast and too aggressively, it also risks alienating a potential future audience - many who password-share beyond the household are not actually aware they're breaking the terms of their subscription."