Q3 Results and Q4 Forecast: Global membership grew 3.62 million to 69.17 million members compared to prior year growth of 3.02 million, and a forecast of 3.55 million. Operating income was $74 million, compared to prior year of $110 million and a forecast of $81 million. Seven quarters ago we moved to providing you our internal forecast for the quarter ahead. We strive for accuracy in this projection and, when it comes to global net additions, Q3 was our most accurate to date: we were within 2% (3.62 vs. 3.55) and within 10% on operating income ($74m vs. $81m).
While global growth was as we expected, our forecast was high for the US and low for international. We added 0.88 million new US members in the quarter compared to 0.98 million prior year and a forecast of 1.15 million. Our over-forecast in the US for Q3 was due to slightly higher-than-expected involuntary churn (inability to collect), which we believe was driven in part by the ongoing transition to chip-based credit and debit cards. In terms of US net additions, through the first nine months of 2015, we are slightly ahead of prior year, and we expect to finish 2015 at about 2014 levels. This would mark the 4th consecutive year we’ve added about 6 million members in the US.
Our US contribution margin in Q3 expanded 375 basis points year over year to 32.4%. This was inclusive of an acceleration in the amortization of some of our licensed content, similar to how we already treat originals and reflecting more viewing in the first month. The effect of this change was a $13 million decrease in US streaming contribution profit in Q3. For Q4, we anticipate 1.65 million US net adds and US contribution margin of 34.0% vs. 28.0% in the year ago quarter. We continue to target a 40% US contribution margin by 2020.
International net add growth totaled 2.74 million compared to 2.04 million in the prior year and a 2.40 million forecast. Excluding the impact of foreign currency ($96 million on a year over year basis), international ASP improved 6% vs. Q3 ‘14, helped by plan mix. In August, we raised our high-definition 2-screen monthly price plan in Europe by one Euro without negatively impacting growth.
As we have indicated previously, international contribution losses will grow sequentially in Q4 as we launch Spain, Italy and Portugal. We have announced our expansion to South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore in early 2016. Our plan remains to run around break-even through 2016 and to deliver material profits thereafter.
Last week we increased prices in several countries including the US, to improve our ability to acquire and offer high quality content, which is the number one member request. Our US pricing is now $7.99 for our standard-definition 1-screen-at-a-time plan (unchanged), $9.99 for our high-definition 2-screen plan (up $1), and $11.99 for ultra-high-definition 4-screen plan (unchanged). Members who were paying $8.99 for the high-definition plan are grandfathered at that price for one year.
As our membership expands, we are quickly becoming a global distribution platform for creators worldwide. Narcos, our latest original series, is a hit and is another fine example of a Netflix original – embraced by both critics and audiences and global in nature (bilingual, Brazilian director and star, US and Latin American cast, shot in Colombia) with substantial viewing across all our territories.
This past quarter, we also unveiled our first locally-produced original series, Club de Cuervos, which played strongly not just in its home country of Mexico but with Spanish speakers around the world, including the US. We are currently in production on our second Mexican original series, Ingobernable, starring Latin American TV superstar, Kate del Castillo, and the French produced Marseille. We have also announced original series productions in Brazil and Italy.
We will launch our first original feature film Beasts of No Nation on Netflix on October 16. This gripping war drama featuring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah has received universal critical acclaim and is an early Oscar hopeful. Attah won the prestigious Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival recognizing him as the best newcomer. We’re also excited to release the first of four films from Adam Sandler, The Ridiculous Six, in December. This release comes on the heels of Sandler’s global success with Pixels ($240M worldwide box office) and the currently hot Hotel Transylvania 2 (already grossing over $200M worldwide box office and yet to be released in many of the larger foreign markets).
Just three years into our originals strategy, we have come a long way and our content is increasingly recognized for its quality and breadth. This year, we garnered a Netflix-record 34 Emmy nominations, across 11 of our original series and documentaries and won four. Netflix and HBO were the only networks to have 3 shows competing for best series honors this year. HBO had an amazing year at the Emmys, but we have only just begun. In addition, Common Sense Media recently named 6 of our original series among the 25 best shows on TV for families with kids from age 2-17.
It is clear that Internet TV is becoming increasingly mainstream and traditional media companies are adjusting to the shift from linear to on-demand viewing. It is a great time to be a creator of content because studios make content to sell content (not to withhold it) and there are new bidders for their product. Some studios will choose to license content to SVOD services like Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix. Others may not. We have a lot of content to select from.
We recently announced that we have acquired global second window rights to four major series. These are How to Get Away with Murder, ABC’s highest rated new series from the 2014/2015 TV season, the eagerly anticipated Colony from Legendary Television and Universal Cable Productions and, from CBS, Zoo, the most-watched scripted summer series of 2015 and the critically acclaimed, Emmy nominated and Golden Globe winning Jane the Virgin. These deals will ensure that audiences around the world will have access to these exciting series on Netflix.
Last month, we did not renew our deal to carry movies from EPIX, as the films were non-exclusive, US-only and offered in windows even further behind other premium Pay TV outlets. So far, we’ve seen no material reduction in US feature film viewing as we have so many other films for members to enjoy. We are investing in high profile, exclusive and globally available original films and creating the first-of-their-kind global Pay TV deals directly with producers. In some cases, we are making the films available globally after a 30 day theatrical and VOD window or in the case of the upcoming New Regency film The Big Short, with Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell, we will offer the film globally in a more traditional Pay TV window several months after theatrical and transactional VOD, in all territories excluding France.
In September, we expanded our in-app purchase relationship with Apple by extending our partnership from Apple TV to iPhone and iPad. Now, new members around the world can sign up for Netflix in-app on the iPhone and iPad, creating a more seamless user experience.
We recently announced a partnership with Virgin America, where new and existing members are able to stream the full Netflix service to their personal devices (at no additional cost) at 35,000 feet in the sky on newly upgraded Virgin America aircraft. Partnerships like this advance our goal to bring Netflix streaming to members wherever they are and whenever they want.
The competitive landscape remains vibrant as Netflix competes with many forms of entertainment for consumers’ leisure time. Other SVOD services continue to evolve: Hulu now offers a commercial free option at $11.99 per month, HBO GO is expanding into Latin America, and the press reported that Amazon Prime spent about $250 million on the new Jeremy Clarkson show. They remain active bidders for content, in addition to all the cable networks around the world.
As we have written in our Long-Term View, linear networks that embrace on demand and Internet delivery as we have, will become more valuable and will experience renewed growth (like HBO Now), while those that do not will lose relevancy. The secular shift to on-demand consumption is best described as “consumers evolving vs. old habits” rather than “Netflix vs. traditional media.” We’re all racing to fulfill consumer desires.
Our DVD-by-mail business in the US continues to serve and please over 5 million members, providing us with $80 million in contribution profit in Q3 (down 11% Y/Y). The broad selection of titles, including new release movies and TV shows, remains attractive to a core member base and means that the tail on this business should be quite long.
Free Cash Flow and Capital
Free cash flow in Q3 totaled -$252 million, down from -$229 million in Q2, due to the working capital intensity of our investment in originals, which results in higher cash spent upfront relative to content amortization. Investing in originals remains the right strategy for Netflix. Exclusive first-window “only on Netflix” content differentiates our service, allows us to leverage our global platform, reduces our dependence on third parties, and adds positive brand halo. Moreover, as more of our content spend is devoted to producing and owning our originals, we are building long term library value.
At the end of Q3, gross debt totaled $2.4 billion, which represents a debt to total cap ratio of about 5%, and we ended the quarter with $2.6 billion in cash & equivalents and short term investments. We are likely to raise additional capital next year to fund our continued content investments.
For quick reference, our eight most recent investor letters are: July 2015, April 2015, January 2015, October 2014, July 2014, April 2014, January 2014, October 2013.
We are privileged to be leading the growth of Internet TV worldwide and to be building a global service connecting storytellers and viewers all over the world.