Peacock Reaches Over 15 Million Sign-Ups, Comcast CEO Says

Brian Roberts - H - 2018
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Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts

Comcast Cable is trending to add more than 500,000 broadband subscribers in the current third quarter, which would be a new record, Brian Roberts tells a virtual Goldman Sachs conference.

NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock has reached more than 15 million sign-ups, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told a virtual conference on Tuesday.

And Comcast Cable is trending to add more than 500,000 broadband subscribers in the current third quarter, which would be a new record, he also said during an appearance at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference.

The Comcast CEO said 2021 will be a difficult year for entertainment arm NBCUniversal's film unit as expenditures for new movies will be necessary while not enough hits from this year, hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic, will be bringing in profits. "2020 isn't really launching a lot of new movies, next year we are going to have a down year even as we may have a strong slate," he said. "It is probably going to take to 2022 to be back to normalization." Roberts suggested that the same was likely also true for other studios.

The Comcast CEO said the company's film and TV businesses are back to production after lockdowns, saying: "Our entire production, not just in film, is back in business. That is going to allow us to launch the NBC fall season in November," a slight delay.

Management said at the end of July said that Peacock had reached 10 million signups, with Roberts saying back then that the streamer's early momentum "exceeded our high expectations." NBCU has said it hopes Peacock will attract 30 million to 35 million monthly active accounts by 2024.

Roberts said on Tuesday that Peacock has now reached over 15 million sign-ups. "I am encouraged" about the streaming service's early days, he said, also mentioning that in Comcast's broadband-only homes Peacock is already the no. 2 app just behind Netflix, while in homes with the Xfinity X1 TV service platform it is no. 3 behind Netflix and YouTube, but "closing in" on the second spot.

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal's coronavirus-hit businesses are "all coming back," he said, mentioning the return of sports and productions, and the reopening of theme parks. He said that after a second-quarter bottom in TV advertising, with the third quarter set to come in better. "We are seeing a nice pick-up in demand. Scatter is improving almost every day, a really good sign for both the third and fourth quarter," Roberts said. "And, of course, it's great to have football back."

He also said the advertising upfront market has seen "stronger demand" than feared a few months ago, leaving him "pleased." Concluded Roberts: "We are not back to where we were, but I think there are real, encouraging signs."

NBCU recently rejigged and streamlined key parts of its operations to cut costs and update structures for the digital age. For example, a recently launched TV and Streaming unit, which combined those businesses under Mark Lazarus, unveiled a restructuring designed to shift resources and investment from linear to streaming.

Roberts said Tuesday that with the new structure, the company can now more flexibly decide where content it produces should go. "Sometimes we are going to put it on cable and Peacock, or just Peacock" - all dependent on the content.

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Roberts on Tuesday also lauded new approaches to film releases, including Universal Pictures' historic agreement with cinema giant AMC Theatres, which will allow the studio's movies to be made available on premium video-on-demand after just 17 days of play in cinemas, including three weekends.

Asked about Comcast's diversification and what advantages that gives the company, Roberts said Communacopia was designed to talk about convergence, which is happening and continuing. "Tech companies are getting into media," while media firms are looking for new distribution. And at the center of that is broadband. "Broadband is really the enabler," Roberts said. "We are there. We saw this coming" and can now "play offense."He mentioned broadband, aggregation and streaming as key growth opportunities. In terms of aggregation, Roberts said that the company is looking at possibly next bringing those skills and offering to smart TVs: "We're looking at bringing our tech stack to smart TVs on a global basis."Asked if Comcast cares if consumers want cable TV or just streaming services, he said the company is "nearly" at the point where it doesn't care, before adding: "frankly, we're there."

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