Netflix CEO still talks big

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

SAN FRANCISCO -- To hear Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tell it, the bone-headed decisions that have dragged down the Internet's leading video subscription service during the past 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 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 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 a month in most markets.

"If you fundamentally believe Internet video will change the world in 20 years, we are the leading play on that basis," Hastings said. He quickly added a caveat: "As long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot anymore."

Hastings sounded like 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's stock closed at $71.96 Wednesday, down from a peak of nearly $305 in July when the company infuriated U.S. subscribers by announcing plans to raise 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 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 customers wanted.

"We berate ourselves tremendously for that lack of insight because it didn't need to be that way," Hastings said Tuesday.

"But, you know, in three or five years, we aren't going to remember it. It's going to be: 'Did we succeed at streaming?' That's all people are going to care about. ... So we are not losing too much sleep over it. We are charging ahead."