Comcast CEO Brian Roberts: Peacock Second-Fastest Growing Brand During the Pandemic

With 57 million people spending more than $100 monthly on Comcast products and services worldwide, CEO Brian Roberts says the company is uniquely positioned to deal with ongoing industry challenges presented by the pandemic. Speaking March 3 on the virtual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, Roberts said NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock was the second-fastest growing brand in 2020 behind Zoom, the online video conference platform.

“Think about how fast your world can change in a short order,” Roberts said. He said Peacock was a “spreadsheet plan that had to go into reality” during a pandemic. The platform ended 2020 with more than 33 million sign-ups.

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“During this year, one of my goals is to step back and comeback with, ‘okay, we had this start [with Peacock], what are we going to do about it?'” Roberts said.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

“Peacock has definitely benefited from being part of Sky [in the U.K.] and Comcast Cable,” he said, adding the service hopes to get back programming that currently streams on Hulu, the SVOD service Comcast holds a 33% minority stake in.

“Hulu has been a tremendous company,” Roberts said. “We have an exit opportunity in a couple of years, and that is creating real value for Comcast shareholders. The opportunity to get a lot of cash for Hulu is coming our way.”

Indeed, Wall Street analyst Richard Greenfield contends Comcast’s stake in Hulu is worth about $15 billion, while current programming oddities between Disney and Comcast find episodes of “Modern Family” streaming on both Peacock and Hulu.

“We control the flexibility and timing of when to bring that back on a non-exclusive and exclusive basis,” Roberts said.

He said Comcast continues to analyze streaming video in regards to third-party acquisitions, consumer trends for how the media giant positions itself competitively.

“Is it a winner-take-all [scenario], or is it, ‘you need to be relevant and have content your customers want and they find you?'” Roberts said.

He said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, has done a great job re-imagining the whole company, including movie distribution. Roberts contends the hybrid theatrical/PVOD business model is here to stay, especially for a company that has installed tens of millions of set-top boxes in consumer homes.

“I think we’re set up for success … and I’m excited for NBCUniversal,” he said.

When asked about the status of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Roberts said the world could use the emotion and spectacle the Games offer.

“It’s not my decision, but I think it’s ‘not if, but how’ [the event is run] and I’m very hopeful in my conversations with [Games] leadership that there is an excitement [surrounding the event],” he said. “This is the perfect moment for the world to come together.”

Meanwhile, with broadband a prerequisite in the deployment of over-the-top video, Comcast added 2 million high-speed Internet subscribers in the past year — much of it driven by the proliferation of streaming services, including Comcast’s broadband-only Flex streaming video platform, which just crossed three million set-top boxes.

Comcast will roll out several new features and announcements for the streaming platform later this year, according to Roberts.

“Flex is the new television,” he said, adding that the service has produced a 15%-20% reduction in pay-TV subscriber churn. “It’s a new opportunity in R&D. I think we have the best aggregation tools in the country.”

Separately, Roberts said Universal is set to resume construction of Epic Universe theme park in Florida, while construction continues on Nintendo Park in Osaka, Japan — intellectual property Comcast plans to import to amusement parks in California and Florida.

“Our parks business was virtually shut down last year, so we have no where to go but up,” he said.

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