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John Malone, regarded as one of the shrewdest media investors ever, told CNBC he saw the importance of video streaming to the evolving television ecosystem, even in the early days.
In an interview that aired Thursday, the Liberty Media billionaire recalled attempts to have DirecTV purchase Netflix, when he was chairman of the satellite-television service from 2008 to 2010.
“I tried to buy Netflix from [co-founder] Reed Hastings when the stock was eight bucks, but he wouldn’t sell it to me. You know, damn that bad luck,” Malone told CNBC’s David Faber in the lead up to Liberty Media’s investor day Thursday. The event was held in-person in New York City and virtually.
Netflix has come a long way since $8 per share. It’s on its way to becoming the most dominant video-streaming service on the planet, and it’s a beloved stock on Wall Street. Netflix shares hit an all-time high of $700.99 on Wednesday, a whopping 8,660% gain since then.
Malone acknowledged the advantage Netflix has created for itself by being first to enter streaming in a big way, reiterating comments he made to CNBC back in 2017, referencing the failed effort to buy Netflix. “I tried very hard to buy Netflix for DirecTV,” he said then. “Reed was pretty clear that his ambitions were to build a much bigger global company. And he was right to do that.”
Fast forward to 2021, Malone said, “The market is obviously putting huge market valuations on Netflix — and frankly, Netflix relative to Disney.” Netflix, which started its streaming service in 2007, had some 214 million global streaming paid subscribers at the end of its latest quarter. Disney+, which launched two years ago, had 118.1 million subscribers, including Hotstar, the service’s brand in India.
Malone told Faber, “You should be asking me, ‘John, why didn’t you invest more heavily in Google or Facebook or Amazon? Why did you stay with these old these businesses you were in,’ you know? And I plead guilty to that.”
The veteran media tycoon marveled at what Big Tech and their leaders have been able to accomplish. He said, “[Amazon’s] Jeff Bezos is a genius with what he’s created. Steve Jobs and Tim Cook [with Apple] have been masterful,” including Netflix’s CEO Hastings. “These are brilliant businessmen who have seized an opportunity, seen the power of global scale, and have exploited it,” Malone said.
Netflix was not immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Malone’s remarks.