Comcast Lost 409,000 Video Subs in Q1

The hits keeps coming for pay-TV regardless of a pandemic.

Comcast Cable April 30 reported it lost 409,000 video subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31), which included 22,000 business accounts. That compared with 121,000 subs lost in the previous-year period, including 14,000 business accounts.

The sub losses underscore ongoing shifts how consumers watch television and stream video, including alternative channels such as online TV and subscription video-on-demand.

The cable operator ended the quarter with 19.9 million residential video subs — down 952,000 subs from the same period in 2019. It finished the period with 944,000 business subs, compared with more than 1 million during the previous-year period.

Fortunately, Comcast is the largest Internet Service Provider in the country, underscored by the addition of 477,000 broadband subs in the quarter — up from 375,000 high-speed Internet sub additions last year. Comcast ended the period with 29.1 million broadband subs compared to 27.5 million subs last year.

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Video revenue was consistent with the prior year period, due to an increase in average subscription rates, offset by a decline in the number of residential video subs. Advertising revenue was consistent with the prior year period, primarily reflecting an increase in political ad revenue, offset by reduced advertiser spending due to the coronavirus. Excluding political ad spending, advertising revenue decreased 4.6%.

“While parts of our business have been more impacted by COVID-19 than others, we have continued to innovate,” CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement. “We are distributing our content in new ways, as evidenced by the recent launch of [streaming video platform] Peacock on Xfinity X1 and Flex.

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Roberts said a strong balance sheet, portfolio of assets, and “world-class” management team would help Comcast to grow and succeed through the virus pandemic.

“This is a moment in time; and when it passes, I am very confident that the decisions we are making now will enable us to emerge from this crisis as a healthy, strong company,” he said.

Comcast’s Brian Roberts, Wife Donate $5 Million For Laptops to Philadelphia Public Schools

With public schools switching to online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts and his wife Aileen have pledged $5 million toward the purchase of laptop computers for school children in Philadelphia.

According to a 2019 School District survey, only about 50% of third- through 12th-grade students have the equipment they need to begin participating in online lessons. Roberts’ donation will support the purchase of 50,000 Chromebooks, which will help ensure that all students who attend the 220 District-led public schools across Philadelphia have the tools they need to learn at home.

“We’re living in an unprecedented time and COVID-19 is presenting our society with new challenges every day,” Aileen and Brian Roberts said in a statement. “When we heard that many Philadelphia students weren’t going to be able to learn from home without laptops, we quickly decided we wanted to help and provide these teachers, parents and students with the technology they need to begin learning online within just a few weeks.”

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The laptops will be distributed along with the estimated 40,000 laptops already in school buildings to students and families. Once the equipment is received at the School District headquarters, it will be dispensed between April 13 and 17. During the interim two weeks, the laptops will be prepared for the students and the Philadelphia School District teachers will be trained to support distance learning.

“The generous gift from Aileen and Brian Roberts and their family will help to transform the learning experience for thousands of Philadelphia’s public school students who will now be able to access online educational resources from home,” said Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. “Our public schools belong to all of us and this is a great example of what’s possible when we work together to improve educational supports for all of our young people. I am grateful for their generosity.”

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Students and their families who don’t already have Internet access can get it through any Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Philadelphia. Comcast is currently offering low-income families who don’t already have Internet service two free months through Internet Essentials, which is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program.

IOC Official: 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Likely Postponed

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, arguably the biggest media sporting event of the year, will be postponed likely to next year, according to an IOC official.

IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today March 23 the Games, which are slated for July 24 to Aug. 9, probably won’t happen until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.

Japan has more than 1,800 COVID-19 cases, including cases originating aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The modern Summer Olympics have been held consecutively every four year since 1896 — except during World War I and World War II (1916, 1940, 1944).

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Although the IOC has made no official announcement, there have been growing calls from countries’ Olympic committees to postpone the event due to athletes’ concerns. Canada and Australia both announced they would not be sending athletes due to the pandemic that has claimed more than 15,000 lives and infected more than 350,000, according to the World Health Organization. Johns Hopkins University said more than 100,000 of the infected have survived.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who until last weekend stressed the Games would go on as scheduled, began to change his mind as the pandemic expands.

“This decision by IOC is in line with what I have said, about holding the games in their entirety,” Abe told lawmakers over the weekend. “In case this becomes difficult, in order to make the athletes our top priority, we may have no choice but to decide to postpone the Games.”

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The delay is a huge blow to Japan and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, which have poured tens of billions of dollars into staging the event, not including billions more spent on marketing and advertising.

Organizers haven’t commented on the status of the traditional Olympic torch relay, which is slated to start March 26 (without spectators) in the northern part of the country.

Comcast, which has spent billions securing exclusive U.S. broadcast and streaming rights for NBCUniversal to the Games, stands to lose about $1.2 billion in advertising. CEO Brian Roberts has said the company has insurance should the Games be canceled.

NBC Sports plans to stream the games across several of its networks.

Comcast’s Flex Platform Adds Hulu, CBS All Access, Starz

Comcast’s Xfinity Flex is a free (i.e. ad-supported) platform and set-top device that affords broadband-only subscribers access to premium content, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, HBO, Showtime and more than 10,000 movies on demand.

Flex was launched to counter ongoing declines in linear pay-TV as consumers migrate to over-the-top video, which requires broadband connectivity. Comcast is one of the largest ISPs in the country, adding around 1.4 million broadband subscribers in 2019.

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While much of the media attention revolves around the cloud-based Xfinity X1 set-top and the April 15 launch of NBCUniversal’s subscription streaming video service Peacock, Flex has quietly gained momentum, according to Comcast Corp. chairman Brian Roberts.

Speaking this week at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Roberts said Flex enables the company to secure cord-cutters migrating to third-party services.

“Half of all our sales last year, give or take, were broadband only,” Roberts said. “So we want to give them a road map to consume video, to have lower churn, to have higher advertising and, ultimately, have a better experience with our company and perhaps buy X1 and more video products.”

The concept quickly gained traction, forcing Comcast to scale back Flex as it ran out of Xfinity set-top devices (similar to Roku devices) last fall. The platform just added additional content options, including CBS All Access, Starz and Hulu, which Comcast last year sold its 30% stake in to Disney for a reported $5.8 billion.

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Flex will also feature Peacock and about 100 other third-party apps. Roberts said it costs Comcast about $50 per Flex sub, which the executive considers a long-term investment.

“They now have our X1 [device] or any service we might dream up in the next 50 years,” he said. “It’s early days, but I can tell you, we put out more Flexes than we’ve lost video [subs],” he said.

 

UPHE’s Eddie Cunningham to be Honored With Third Annual ‘Fast Forward’ Award

Media Play News on Feb. 28 announced that Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), will receive the third annual Media Play Fast Forward Award, which honors people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

Cunningham is being honored for his innovative and aggressive promotion of packaged media since he assumed his present position in 2014. Under Cunningham’s leadership, UPHE has scored a steady string of best-selling Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, spanning such global blockbuster franchises as “Jurassic World” and “Fast and Furious” as well as the breakout film sensations Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Us and Downton Abbey.

In an effort to further innovate for the industry, UPHE last June unveiled a completely reimagined bonus content menu for its physical disc offerings that is more easily accessible and navigable — a move the studio introduced to provide viewers with a more visceral and engaging experience for Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which Cunningham and his team believe is a key selling point for its physical product offerings.

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And when Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures in January 2020 announced plans to merge their domestic disc distribution businesses, Cunningham was chosen to lead the joint venture that pending regulatory approval will begin operation in early 2021.

Last year, the Media Play Fast Forward Award went to digital retailers Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Galen Smith of Redbox On Demand, Google Play Movies & TV’s Jonathan Zepp and the team at Apple iTunes.

The previous year, the inaugural Media Play Fast Forward Award was shared by Fox Innovation Lab and Movies Anywhere.

The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first Visionary Award winner, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

Cunningham will be profiled in the March issue of Media Play News.

Comcast Ups Jennifer Khoury to Chief Communications Officer

Comcast Feb. 21 announced the promotion of Jennifer Khoury to chief communications officer, succeeding D’Arcy Rudnay who is retiring after a 16-year career at Comcast, effective today.

Rudnay will remain with Comcast through the end of the year, serving as senior advisor to Comcast’s executive leadership team.

Jennifer Khoury

“D’Arcy created our corporate brand and has led our communications strategy through some of the most important milestones in our history,” CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

Those milestones included acquiring NBCUniversal, DreamWorks Animation and Sky and industry-shaping technological innovations such as selling and renting digital movies.

Roberts said Khoury is a “fantastic leader” and the “perfect person” to help communicate Comcast into the future.

Darcy Rudnay

Khoury joined Comcast more than 20 years ago and has been responsible for leading communications for Comcast Cable and has managed strategic communications for numerous campaigns and product and technology launches. She also oversees the corporate digital communications team, a function she built over the last decade to reflect the rapidly changing communications landscape.

Khoury reports to Roberts and Adam Miller, who was also promoted to senior EVP of Comcast Corp., in addition to his EVP role at NBCUniversal.

Comcast Loses 149,000 Q4 Cable Subs; Record 733,000 Subs in 2019

In another reminder the traditional pay-TV business model’s leak is widening, Comcast Cable Jan. 23 reported a drop of 149,000 video subscribers in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2019. The nation’s largest cable operator lost a record 733,000 video subs in 2019 — underscoring consumers’ growing disinterest in the cable bundle and migration toward less-expensive over-the-top video distribution.

Comcast, which ended the year with 20.2 million video subscribers, is offsetting video sub losses with broadband — the lifeblood of video streaming. The company is one of the largest ISP operators, adding 424,000 high-speed Internet subs in the quarter; and 1.4 million for the fiscal year, including business customers.

Comcast ended 2019 with 28.6 million broadband subs, up 5% from 27.2 million subs at the end of 2018.

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In a statement, CEO Brian Roberts lauded the company’s broadband subscriber growth, adding the Comcast in 2020 would differentiate its broadband product in the U.S. through innovations like Flex and xFi Advanced Security; accelerating the deployment of Sky Q and launching a new broadband service in Italy.

The executive said Comcast has high hopes for the April debut of Peacock, the company’s first branded over-the-top video platform featuring both subscription and ad-supported services.

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“Underscoring our confidence in the continued success of our company, we are pleased to announce a 10% increase in our dividend, our 12th consecutive annual increase,” Roberts said.

NBC Universal to Combine Ad Selling in the Digital Era

Continuing with the advertising theme in an over-the-top video ecosystem at CES 2020, NBC Universal is consolidating the selling of ad space across its linear and digital platforms.

Speaking Jan. 7 at CES, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, told attendees ad buyers would soon be able to acquire spots under the company’s “One Platform” banner and in the process streamline the process across linear and digital properties — the latter including the April launch of the Peacock streaming service.

NBC Universal ad boss Linda Yaccarino.

“We know that viewers do not differentiate content by network, time or screen; instead, our fans see NBC Universal as one giant home to the best stories, so that’s the mindset we’ll go to market with in 2020,” Yaccarino said in a statement.

The move comes as media companies roll out subscription video-on-demand and ad-supported VOD services in an effort to narrow the gap between OTT behemoths Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

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With the surge in SVOD services comes fatigue among consumers facing myriad monthly subscription fees ranging from $4 to $15 monthly. Advertising is seen as a way to offset loss-leading subscription fees while enabling a shadow AVOD market.

Many observers have suggested Netflix should start selling ads due to its massive global subscriber base, in addition to mounting long-term debt from bond sales. The SVOD pioneer heretofore has refused to run ads.

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NBC Universal’s Peacock service will be SVOD and ad-supported, depending on the targeted user such as Xfinity subs and consumers with no Comcast connection.

“If you do that, advertising with a light ad load, with the premium content that will be on this network, this will be unlike any advertising inventory available,” CEO Brian Roberts told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York last year.

 

Jeff Shell to Become NBC Universal CEO on Jan. 1, 2020

As expected, NBC Universal has tapped Jeff Shell to become chairman and CEO of the media company effective Jan. 1, 2020, replacing Steve Burke, who announced he is stepping down after eight years. NBC Universal properties include Universal Pictures and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Shell is a longtime NBC executive having overseen NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Telemundo and NBC Universal International, among other positions.

Burke will retire on Aug. 14, 2020, following the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Shell will report to Burke, who will move to the role of chairman, NBC Universal. Upon Burke’s retirement, Shell will report directly to Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp., which completed its takeover of the company in January 2011.

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“Jeff Shell is the ideal executive to take the helm at NBC Universal,” Roberts said in a statement. “He has a stellar track record across both the film and TV side of the business, as well as a wealth of international experience. I could not be more confident in his ability to lead NBC Universal into the future.”

Under Burke’s leadership, NBC Universal increased its adjusted pre-tax earnings from $3.4 billion to $8.6 billion since the Comcast acquisition through 2018 — achieving the fastest annual growth rate of any major media company.

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Yet Burke has also been hesitant to embrace over-the-top video, including online TV. The executive famously told an investor call in 2017 that online TV was a money-losing proposition, adding the format was not “material” to the pay-TV business.

“We have deals in place with all of them,” Burke said on the call. “But it’s a very tough business and we’re skeptical it’s going to be a very large business or profitable business for the people that are in it. And they’re off to a relatively slow start.”

Comcast Sheds 224,000 Video Subs in Q2

The pay-TV industry appears to be on course to set a new record for video subscriber losses in a fiscal quarter.

The day after AT&T reported substantial (950,000!) video sub losses, Comcast Cable did its part to underscore ongoing carnage within the industry.

The nation’s No. 1 cable operator July 25 reported it lost 209,000 residential video subs in the second quarter, ended June 30. That compared to a loss of 136,000 video subs in the previous-year period.

When factoring in business subscribers, Comcast lost 224,000 total video subs, which was up 60% from a loss of 140,000 subs last year.

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Comcast ended the period with 20.6 million video subs, down 432,000 subs from the previous-year period.

As if to put an exclamation point on consumer migration to over-the-top video distribution, Comcast said it added 182,000 residential high-speed Internet connections. That was still down almost 20% from the addition of 226,000 broadband subs in the same period last year.

Comcast ended the quarter with more than 25 million broadband subs, which is up almost 5% from 24.4 million subs a year ago.

Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts took the high road on the video subscriber losses, highlighting instead the company’s 55 million “high-value” direct customer relationshipsand adjusted fiscal growth throughout various business segments, including video.

“Our teams throughout the company continue to collaborate to make themselves and each other even stronger, and I’m excited about our growth opportunities ahead,” Roberts said in a statement.