January 23, 2019
Comcast has long eschewed over-the-top video, arguing its legacy cable pay-TV service and Xfinity X1 set-top box offer superior content and access options.
With much of the entertainment industry coveting OTT distribution, including pending platform launches from Disney and WarnerMedia, Comcast recently changed its tune announcing it would launch a free streaming service for its pay-TV subs in 2020.
Speaking on the Jan. 23 fiscal call, corporate CEO Brian Roberts said the service would be “distinct and compelling” offering current and prior seasons of NBC Universal programming, some original content and a “light” advertising load.
“It’s a great value proposition for consumers and provides marketers with a unique, targetable digital advertising and high quality premium programming,” said Roberts. “It will harness all the things that make our company so unique.”
He said that when presented to the company’s combined 54 million subscribers (with British satellite operator Sky and its Now TV OTT video platform), Comcast would be able to generate “significant value” over time by enhancing the company’s content monetization and strengthening the value of pay-TV.
“We will continue to sponsor a broad, varied distribution environment and see this platform as being a valuable addition to this highly effective strategy,” said Roberts.
NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, a long-time foe to OTT video, embraced the strategic change, saying he believes the company now “under-monetizes” its content on the Internet.
In a fiscal call last year, Burke said that while the media company had deals with online TV services such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Hulu Live and YouTube TV, he doubted the platforms would make much of an impact.
“They’re off to a relatively slow start,” he said.
Indeed, NBC’s attempt at a standalone OTT comedy platform (SeeSo) shuttered after 18 months.
Neil Smit, former CEO of Comcast Cable, in 2016 infamously declared that he hadn’t seen an “OTT model that really hunts.” Less than a year later Smit stepped down as CEO, replaced by company veteran Dave Watson, whose stance on OTT is only slightly changed from his predecessor’s.
But management opinions have apparently changed in the face of market reality.
“In terms of content and taking things that are currently licensed elsewhere and moving them to the platform, I think it is going to be very positive for us financially, because in effect, we’re going to be a brand new buyer,” Burke said.