SAN FRANCISCO - To hear Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tell it, the boneheaded decisions that have dragged down the Internet's leading video subscription service during the last five months eventually will be forgotten like a bad movie made by a great film director.
Shaking off the stigma of a massive flop won't be easy, a challenge Hastings acknowledged late Tuesday when he spoke at a UBS investor conference in New York. After his host mentioned the mystique surrounding Hastings as Netflix's fortunes soared a year ago, Hastings quipped: "Now, it's just pity."
The self-deprecating humor prefaced a 45-minute treatise on why Hastings believes Netflix will overcome its recent adversity and remain at the forefront of a shift that increasingly will turn watching Internet-distributed video into one of the world's most popular pastimes.
His long-term vision calls for Netflix to be selling Internet video subscriptions at prices starting at $8 per month in most markets outside of China.
"If you fundamentally believe Internet video will change the world in 20 years, we are the leading play on that basis," Hastings boasted. He quickly added a caveat: "As long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot anymore."
Hastings sounded as if he intends to stick around to lead the way, despite questions about recent moves that triggered a customer backlash and a staggering decline in Netflix's stock price that has wiped out three-fourths, or about $12 billion, of the company's market value in five months. Netflix Inc.'s stock was trading at about $71 midday Wednesday, down from a peak of nearly $305 in July when the company infuriated its U.S. subscribers by announcing plans to raise its prices by as much as 60 percent.
The sell-off has surprised and humbled Hastings, who revealed on stage that he had curtailed his sales of his Netflix holdings earlier this year, because he was convinced the stock would quickly hit $1,000.
Hastings said his biggest mistake was trying to phase out Netflix's once-trailblazing DVD-by-mail rental service more quickly than millions of customers wanted.
"We became a sort of a Bank of America symbol, which is super unfortunate," Hastings said Tuesday in comments monitored on a webcast.
Netflix ended September with 25.3 million subscribers worldwide, including 23.8 million in the United States Nearly 14 million of the U.S. subscriptions included a DVD-by-mail plan.