Executives offered the updated comments during a conference call with analysts to discuss the company’s second-quarter results, which were mixed compared with Wall Street expectations.
The free, ad-supported offering will initially roll out across the footprints of Comcast and Sky, hitting the market after Disney and Apple bring forth subscription products, with WarnerMedia targeting spring 2020. Given its strategy to tie the streaming rollout to Summer Olympics in Tokyo will offer NBCU a wide platform to drive streaming adoption when the Games begin next July. The company has also said it will offer the still-unnamed service to non-Comcast subscribers for a monthly fee, though it has not laid out any specifics.
Aside from the April timeline and the number of staffers “hard at work” on the initiative, NBCU CEO Steve Burke didn’t offer other details. “We believe we’ve got some ideas that we think are innovative,” he said, though “for competitive reasons,” he didn’t want to get more precise.
The Office, which was reclaimed from Netflix last month in a $500 million deal, will be a “tentpole” property on the streaming service starting in 2021, Burke affirmed. The show is “important to us,” Burke said. Nielsen data indicate it was the most-watched show on all of Netflix in 2018, with 52 billion minutes viewed, comprising about 5% of total watch time on the service. Burke said the decision to make an aggressive play to bring it back also stemmed from the fact that it is “tied to the DNA of NBC.”
Asked by one analyst about the programming mix of the streaming service, Burke started by stating the obvious: “Our service is very different from Netflix.” Upon launch, he continued, the “vast majority [of shows] I’d expect to be acquired,” and likewise the “vast majority of consumption in the beginning would be acquired” as opposed to originals. He did note one example of original programming investment is the recently announced continuation of former NBC sitcom AP Bio as a streaming original.
While he didn’t weigh in on streaming during the Q&A portion of the call, CEO Brian Roberts in his prepared remarks reported “great progress” on the NBCU service.
The strategy of using the Comcast and Sky cable and satellite footprint to launch the offering across 52 million global homes will “lower our cost of entry and risk as we enter the market,” he added.
Roberts noted “signs of competition and change in the ecosystem. That said, for years we have believed video over the internet is more friend than foe.”
Burke noted that the ad-supported streaming service will come to market during a “particularly robust” advertising cycle across the company, which gives the company confidence in its AVOD approach. Most rival services are subscription-based, meaning customer acquisition costs and average revenue per user will be the measuring sticks. Burke said leveraging an existing ad-sales business will make the venture “financially attractive” for the company and investors.
NBC primetime ad revenue increased 13.5% in 2018-18, Burke said. The biggest ad category companywide, he said, has been “digital native companies,” meaning everything from the FAANG giants to newer companies like Peleton.
“Ironically, these are the companies putting pressure on our linear ratings,” he said. “But interestingly, those companies find television advertising effective.” Together they accounted for about $1 billion in spending, he said, up from practically zero five years ago.