Streaming service Peacock closed 2022 with more than 20 million paid subscribers, helping Comcast slip past Wall Street estimates during a challenging fourth quarter in the media business.
Total revenue came in at $30.55 billion in the period, less than 1% ahead of the prior-year quarter but just above analysts’ consensus. Earnings per share of 70 cents fell short of estimates, but exceeded them on an adjusted basis.
Along with Peacock, which added 5 million subscribers during the quarter, a strong return for theme parks helped NBCUniversal post a revenue increase of 6% to $9.9 billion. Advertising revenue rose 4%, which the company credited to Spanish-language coverage of the World Cup by Telemundo and an upswing in Peacock ad revenue. After launching in mid-2020, Peacock struggled to gain traction in the early going, hurt more than most new streaming players by Covid’s impact on live sports and original production. A strategic shift has also brought paid subscriptions center stage, a turn from the focus at launch on the free, ad-supported tier.
NBCU’s quarterly profit narrative was less encouraging, with adjusted EBITDA falling 36% to $817 million. When $182 million of severance expenses are factored out, the decline was 22%. A particular drag on profits, the company said, was higher costs for programming and production.
Theatrical revenue at the film studio soared 47% over the prior year, with Ticket to Paradise, Puss
in Boots: The Last Wish, Violent Night and Halloween Ends closing 2022 on a high note. First-window streaming rights to Universal theatrical titles on Peacock started last year and helped pace growth of the service, as did reclaimed rights to NBC and Bravo shows that previously went to Disney-controlled Hulu after their linear premieres.
While Peacock revenue tripled to $2.1 billion in 2022, with $660 million coming in during the quarter, the financial toll of scaling up the service also mounted. The company recorded an adjusted EBITDA loss of $978 million related to Peacock, compared with $559 in the year-ago period.
Theme park revenue gained 12% to $2.1 billion, which the company said was due simply to “increased attendance and guest spending,” relative to the Omicron-hit period in 2021.
Peacock’s growth had been teased at 18 million subscribers as of early December, by NBCU boss Jeff Shell during an appearance at a Wall Street media conference. Live Spanish-language coverage of the World Cup by Telemundo, which was carried by Peacock, helped the streamer gain momentum into the end of the year. In that session, Shell also highlighted a key item on Comcast’s agenda for 2023: getting clarity on the state of its Hulu stake. In an arrangement with Disney, Comcast can be bought out for its 30% of the streamer starting about a year from now. “There’s no indication that anything else is going to happen than Disney writing us us a big check,” Shell said.
Video subscriber losses continued at Comcast Cable, which shed 2 million video customers in all of 2022. In the quarter, 440,000 video subscribers disconnected. Excluding the impact from Hurricane Ian, total broadband net additions were 4,000, the company said.
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