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NBCUniversal Boss Jeff Shell Says Netflix “Noise” Helps “Validate” Peacock’s Path; Streaming Outlet Adds 4M Paid Subscribers In Q1

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After witnessing the carnage on Wall Street after Netflix reported stalling subscriber levels, raising stark questions about the business of streaming, Comcast kept talk of NBCUniversal’s Peacock somewhat limited during its first-quarter earnings call Thursday.

In contrast with the previous quarter, which was dominated by boosterish sentiment around the 2-year-old Peacock and a pledge to increase spending on it to $3 billion a year, traditional assets this time took center stage. The performance of NBCU’s advertising business, powered by the Beijing Olympics and Super Bowl LVI, enabled Comcast to beat Wall Street estimates for the quarter. Revenue and earnings both rose by double digits.

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“The noise in the rest of the streaming business just validates where we’re going,” NBCU chief Jeff Shell said on the call. “We’ve said from the beginning when we launched Peacock that we’re taking a different approach from other people in the streaming business. We don’t view Peacock as a separate and distinct business. We think of it as an extension of our existing TV business. And we manage it that way, that’s how we set up our business. That’s how we program it, that’s how we sell advertising across both linear and Peacock. I think that that strategy is working.”

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Toward the end of CEO Brian Roberts’ prepared remarks, he said Peacock has reached 28 million monthly active accounts. It added 4 million paid subscribers to reach 13 million overall, though the Super Bowl and Olympics drove most of the activity. Peacock has two tiers, one free and ad-supported and Peacock Premium, which costs most customers $5 a month.

Peacock had revenue of $472 million in the quarter, but is continuing to post losses, as Comcast projected ahead of its launch. EBITDA losses totaled $456 million in the quarter.

Shell touted programming momentum. It has gotten consistent live tune-in for the Premier League and the WWE, two of its top draws. Scripted programming, long the Achilles heel of Peacock, in part because of Covid, has finally shown signs of developing. Bel-Air, the drama revamp of the Will Smith sitcom, is “the first real hit” on the service and “the first original that we were really high on,” according to Shell. Having the Olympics and the Super Bowl as promotional platforms helped boost the show’s profile, he noted.

Shell and Roberts also mentioned increasing broadcast and cable fare being made available on Peacock. As part of the unwinding of Comcast’s position in Hulu, which will be finalized in 2024, marquee programming including The Voice and Real Housewives will shift from next-day streaming on Hulu to exclusive next-day presence on Peacock starting in September.

“There’s no impact on retrans because it’s the same programming that’s already out there,” Shell said in response to an analyst’s question about the potential impact on retransmission consent fees.

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