By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Netflix's stock market value ballooned to a record $153 billion on Thursday and eclipsed Walt Disney Co for the first time, making it the world's most valuable entertainment company, following a monumental shift by viewers away from cinemas and cable television.
Lifted by a blitz of original programs and 125 million global subscribers, some of whom have given up cable television packages, Netflix's stock has surged 80 percent so far in 2018, more than any other company in the S&P 500.
Since Netflix's initial public offer in 2002, when it was a mail-order DVD service, its shares have surged nearly 33,000 percent. It has also become a must-own stock for Wall Street investors, alongside Apple , Amazon.com , Alphabet and Facebook .
Graphic: Wall Street's Binge, click https://reut.rs/2LopvrD
Netflix's stock on Thursday was up 2.3 percent at $352.90, in line with the median price target of analysts covering the Los Gatos, California company, according to Thomson Reuters data. The most optimistic analyst price target would put Netflix's stock market value at $182 billion.
Disney has lost 5 percent over the past year as it and other one-time entertainment industry leaders struggle to adapt to the shift by global viewers to online video. It owns some of the most valuable entertainment brands in the world, including Marvel, Pixar Animation and "Star Wars." It also operates popular theme parks on three continents and has offered to buy more assets from Twenty-First Century Fox for $52 billion.
With a stock market value of $152 billion on Thursday, Disney is also starting its own streaming service for families, and it has said it will stop supplying new movies to Netflix starting next year.
Earlier this month, Netflix's market capitalization overtook leading U.S. cable operator Comcast , which owns NBC and Universal Pictures.
Comcast, with a stock market value of $145 billion, confirmed on Wednesday it was preparing a rival bid for Twenty-First Century Fox's media assets, setting up a bidding war with Disney.
Telecommunications company AT&T and CNN parent Time Warner , which are trying to win approval to merge, have a combined market capitalization of $274 billion.
Investors are bullish on Netflix's ability to add more members around the world, and they are paying red-hot prices to own its stock. Netflix recently traded at 98 times expected earnings for the next 12 months, versus Disney and Comcast at 14 times earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; editing by Nick Zieminski and Bernadette Baum)