Peacock Hits 26M Signups, Says NBCUniversal CEO

Jeff Shell Trolls Photo Comp
Trolls: DreamWorks Animation LLC/Universal Pictures. Shell: Todd Williamson/Getty Images.

"The momentum just continues in a very strong linear way," Jeff Shell told an investors conference.

NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock has reached more than 26 million signups, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told an investors conference Tuesday.

"As of yesterday, we're just up over 26 million signups, so the momentum just continues in a very strong linear way," Shell told the UBS Global TMT Virtual Investors Conference during a session that was webcast. Parent Comcast in October reported the Peacock streamer had reached nearly 22 million signups as it released its latest financial results.

Shell added that Peacock's business plan is to offer either a free or cheaper alternative to pricey rival streaming platforms in a digital era where cable bundle cord-cutting isn't going away.

"In a world where people are spending a lot of money on Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, there will be room for a more affordable, ad-supportive service," Shell argued. Peacock has also launched without the Olympics, which were delayed one year, and strong programming like The Office, which lands on the advertising video on demand service in January after play on Netflix.

To continue growth at Peacock, NBCUniversal is focused on originals TV production to drive signups and usage of the AVOD service. At the same time, the studio is reserving some premium content to encourage consumers to subscribe.

"I think we'll continue to do that, especially since that's been stronger than we've actually expected," Shell said of Peacock's subscriber base. He added popular TV sports properties like the National Football League and the Olympics, which depend on audience reach for advertising revenues, will continue to underpin the main broadcast network.

Niche TV sports, on the other hand, and news content, will be used where possible to drive audience engagement to Peacock.

Shell added the international rollout for Peacock will avoid major markets like the U.K., Germany and Italy where Comcast parent NBCUniversal has a major presence with Sky.

"Peacock is a product we will use selectively in markets," he told investors, as the AVOD's programming will still land on Sky in the U.K. market.

Shell, who took over as CEO of NBCUniversal from Steve Burke at the beginning of 2020, also discussed a recent shift in his executive ranks from a network-by-network leadership into a consolidated group with Frances Berwick overseeing business operations and Susan Rovner, chairman of entertainment content at NBCUniversal TV and streaming, overseeing entertainment content across the company's portfolio.

He argued NBCUniversal had moved away from a vertical reporting structure to allow executives at each of the studio's networks to work on content from other divisions, and that mirrored how consumers increasingly view TV content across multiplex platforms.

And Netflix, evidently, as a horizontal management structure at the studio allows Rovner and her team to program across all platforms, including Peacock. "It's similar to when somebody walks into Ted Sarandos at Netflix and he can say yes to something, Susan Rovner can say yes to something," Shell explained.

"So it was really about realigning the massive TV operation to be more aligned with the way consumers are watching TV now and into the future," he added.

The NBCUniversal boss also addressed the current film industry debate about collapsing the theatrical window and charging a premium price for early home viewing, a pandemic-era trend started in part by Universal Pictures' decision to break the theatrical window for Trolls World Tour.

"Theatrical is a critical part of the movie business. What makes movies movies is their event and what makes an event is you can actually get in your car and drive somewhere and watch something on a big screen with great sound, the way that directors and filmmakers had meant for us to see the property," Shell explained.

At the same time, many movie lovers will continue to want to view product at home, and they shouldn't have to wait many months to do so, he said. "I think that theatrical will continue to thrive and the more windows can collapse so there's other ways to see things at home and in a less premium fashion, the more money is going to be made by everybody involved in the movie business and it's better for consumers," he added.