Peacock Progressing With 10M Signups; As Comcast “Leans Into Streaming,” It Plans Major NBCU TV Reorg

Dade Hayes

Peacock, the ad-supported streaming service launched by NBCUniversal in April, has drawn about 10 million signups to date, Comcast reported Thursday.

While the company did not expand on that number or offer additional stats, it said view time and engagement levels are ahead of internal projections.

NBCU chief Jeff Shell put the numbers in more context when asked during a conference call with Wall Street analysts to define “signups,” as opposed to active accounts or active users. At its investor day last January, NBCU projected having about 30 million-35 million monthly active accounts by 2024.

“It’s confusing because it’s different in the ad-supported world than the SVOD world,” Shell conceded. Given that Peacock had its national expansion on July 15 after an initial run on Comcast platforms, “it’s too early to convert” the signup number to monthly active accounts, he said, “but across the board we’re better than expectations. We didn’t expect this many signups. We didn’t expect people to come back as frequently as they’re coming back and we didn’t expect people to watch as long as they’re watching when they come back.”

CFO Michael Cavanagh added, “We’re encouraged by the number of people we have giving Peacock a try or a taste.” CEO Brian Roberts, tying together other themes from the quarter, said Peacock, Xfinity Flex, premium video on demand movie offerings and other businesses show how Comcast “leans into streaming.”

One illustration of the new orientation is in the corporate structure of NBCU’s TV group. Under Mark Lazarus, who took on a new role over TV and streaming in May, the organization will get a new structure soon reflecting a focus on streaming, Shell said, though he did not reveal any details.

Lazarus is “finalizing a new structure,” Shell said, that will shift resources toward streaming and away from traditional TV operations. Addressing the broader operating environment, Shell said crises like COVID-19 “tend to accelerate and exacerbate trends, and that is certainly true in the television business.”

It is all but impossible to arrive at apples-to-apples comparisons between Peacock and other new streaming entrants. When Disney launched Disney+ last November, it drew 10 million signups in 24 hours. As of early May, it had 54.5 million global subscribers. But its offering is more slender than Peacock’s and it is ad-free.

HBO Max, meanwhile, reported 4.1 million new subscribers since launching May 27, on top of current HBO subscribers who accessed the service, with WarnerMedia not divulging a total active user tally. Longtime kingpin Netflix leads the field with 193 million global subscribers.

Prior to the call, Comcast reported quarterly financial results that exceeded analysts’ expectations, but NBCU was hit by a 27% drop in advertising revenue.

In a note to clients after the earnings call, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said the numbers “don’t change the narrative.” The analyst maintains a “buy” rating on Comcast shares, but mostly because of its robust broadband and pay-TV businesses. “NBCU is doing very badly,” Moffett wrote, “even if the losses were not as dramatic as some might have feared. NBCU will continue to do very badly until after there is a vaccineā€¦ and the cable networks business, in particular, may not get much better even when there is.”

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