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Netflix raising prices for first time in 3 years

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star in the only-on-Netflix hit “House of Cards.”

Netflix via Associated Press

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star in the only-on-Netflix hit “House of Cards.”

SAN FRANCISCO — Netflix is preparing to raise its prices for the first time in three years to help pay for more Internet video programming such as its popular political drama ‘‘House of Cards.’’

The increase, to take place sometime before July, will increase prices by $1 or $2 per month for new customers.

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The Los Gatos, Calif., company says that current US subscribers will continue to pay $8 per month for a ‘‘generous time period.’’

The move, announced Monday as part of Netflix’s first-quarter earnings report, illustrates the financial pressures mounting on the company as its spends more money to license compelling content. The efforts are aimed at warding off competitive threats from Amazon.com and Hulu.com, while Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. also are gearing up to buy Internet video programming from Hollywood studios.

Amazon recently raised the price of its Prime service, which includes an expanding Internet video library, to $99 annually, from $79.

Investors evidently like the prospect of Netflix bringing in more revenue. Netflix’s stock surged $22.12, or more than 6 percent, to $370.61 in extended trading after the company announced its plans.

Price increases are a risk for Netflix, though. The company was stung by customer backlash in 2011, when it boosted rates by as much as 60 percent for US customers who wanted to continue to stream Internet video and use the DVD-by-mail service. Netflix lost about 800,000 subscribers after the 2011 pricing change was announced, rattling investors so much that the company’s stock plunged more than 80 percent before starting to rebound in August 2012.

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Since the backlash subsided, Netflix has been on a roll. It added 2.25 million Internet video subscribers during the first quarter, to end March with 35.7 million US customers. That was up nearly 50 percent from 23.9 million US subscribers in July 2012, when Netflix was still trying to soothe customers irked by that price hike.

The company attracted another 1.75 million subscribers in Canada and overseas, leaving it with 12.7 million international customers.

Netflix’s comeback has been propelled by its increasing emphasis on exclusive programming, including ‘‘House of Cards,’’ an acclaimed series starring Kevin Spacey as a cunning politician with a ruthless plan to become president of the United States.

Netflix released all 13 episodes in the ‘‘House of Cards’’ second season on Feb. 14, midway through the first quarter.

Another popular Netflix series, ‘‘Orange Is The New Black,’’ is returning with new episodes on June 6, toward the final month of the current quarter.

Chief executive Reed Hastings said the company needs to charge higher prices so the Internet video service can afford to bid against its rivals for programming — and reach its long-term goal of having 60 million to 90 million subscribers in the United States.

‘‘If we want to continue to expand, to do more great original content, more series, more movies, we have to eventually increase prices a little bit,’’ Hastings said in a question-and-answer session streamed in an Internet video.

Netflix Inc. earned $53 million, or 86 cents per share, during the first three months of the year. That compared to $2.7 million, or 5 cents, a year earlier. The latest quarterly earnings exceeded the average estimate of 81 cents per share among analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Revenue rose 24 percent from last year to $1.3 billion, matching projections.

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