Speaking during Comcast’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Shell did not elaborate on his assessment with any specific data. But he cited the sitcom, which NBCU brought back into the fold in a $500 million licensing deal, as proof that the company’s commitment to streaming will bear fruit over time.
“We’re seeing people who are watching The Office on Peacock are watching lots of our other comedies,” Shell said. “It’s really driving Parks & Recreation and really driving Brooklyn Nine-Nine, amongst others. So, it’s kind of an ecosystem.” He said the dynamics are “like broadcast, where we can cross-promote people into different things. That certainly seems to be working.”
'Firefly Lane' Tops Nielsen U.S. Weekly Streaming Rankings, With 'WandaVision' Gaining More Ground
In 2020, when The Office was wrapping its run on Netflix, it was far and away the most-streamed show in the U.S., according to Nielsen, with 57.1 billion total minutes of viewing.
Comcast said Peacock has attracted 33 million sign-ups as of this week and brought in $100 million in revenue during the fourth quarter, which ended December 31. Losses on Peacock are estimated to be $2 billion for the 2020 and 2021, CFO Mike Cavanagh said, matching projections before launch. While the subscription tier costs $5 a month for subscribers whose pay-TV or broadband video plans don’t include it at no cost, Peacock remains primarily an advertising play, Shell emphasized.
No other metrics were revealed during the call, but the NBCU boss said it is “significantly” exceeding internal forecasts for engagement, view time and other indicators. Peacock joined a crowded streaming field last year, competing with new subscription services from Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple, which are all looking to close the gap with Netflix. Given Peacock went national six months ago, Shell said, “we’re at the very beginning of this business, but we’re very confident that the business model is the right business model. … Its steady growth is very promising for us.”
Starting this year, the company announced during the call, results of broadcast, cable and Peacock will be combined and reported as a single set of financials. “We’re programming it as such, we’re selling it to advertisers as one platform as such, and so I think over time it will be harder and harder to distinguish between the profitability of cable networks and the rest of our television business,” Shell said. Organizationally, the company has executed a sweeping restructuring with the same goal, he noted.
Shell said the WWE, whose streaming network will have its exclusive home on Peacock starting next month, is a “perfect property for us.” Its presence on NBCU’s service will “enhance the brand of the WWE,” he said, while allowing NBCU to “monetize it in advertising.” The pro wrestling circuit’s pay-per-view events can drive subscriptions to Peacock Premium, he added, with promotion across networks. “The model we’ve constructed here to leverage our existing linear businesses and drive advertising is working.”
Flex, Comcast’s internet-delivered video bundle, has seen its customers over-index on Peacock, the company has said. That’s not a big surprise given that Peacock Premium is included for Flex customers, but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said it points to a bigger opportunity. Many analysts see Flex, which surpassed 1 million subscribers last year, as a potential rival to Roku as a streaming gatekeeper beyond the Comcast footprint, and the company has made moves in that direction. Disney+ will join the Flex package as an add-on later this quarter, the company announced on the call.
“Peacock’s success is very much partially due to what Flex can do for broadband customers,” Roberts said. “Other programmers are approaching us with their content.”
At an investor day in January 2020, Comcast said its five-year goal was to reach 30 million to 35 million active users. The sign-up disclosures for Peacock do not line up with the subscriber or activation stats shared by Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia. (Apple has never revealed any stats for Apple TV+, which launched in November 2019.) While they acknowledge that sign-ups and active users are not the same thing, Comcast execs believe the service is ahead of initial forecasts.
The Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to this summer due to Covid-19, were going to be “our big launch moment,” Roberts noted during the call. But even without that big promotional tent, he said (and there is even some doubt now about the 2021 prospects for Tokyo), Peacock is “off to the fast start that everyone would want it to have, and maybe even more than that.”
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