Comcast CEO Brian Roberts: NBCUniversal Would Love to Buy Hulu Outright From Disney

Hulu has become a hot commodity. The subscription streaming video pioneer is majority owned (67%) by Disney, with Comcast’s NBCUniversal owning the other 33%. The platform has nearly 50 million subscribers when combining the SVOD service with the online TV offering.

In 2024, Comcast has the right to sell its remaining stake to Disney for at least $27.5 billion. Disney CEO Bob Chapek would like to move up the sale window at a lower price (of course) to expedite melding Hulu within the Disney+ ecosystem.

But Comcast CEO Brian Roberts may have other ideas.

Speaking Sept. 14 at the Goldman Sachs + Technology confab in San Francisco, Roberts was asked about the pending sales date — a move that would seem in the cards considering NBCUniversal’s recent decision to begin pulling original content from Hulu to put on its own proprietary Peacock streaming service.

Roberts, however, recognizes a valuable asset in Hulu, and believes selling NBCUniversal’s stake could instead transform into an offer to buy Hulu outright.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Hulu is a phenomenal business,” Roberts said. “Its scale is fantastic.”

The CEO said he believes Hulu’s content offering combined with brand value make the platform a prized commodity in an ecosystem that has gone all in on the streaming window. In addition, despite Roberts’ words of encouragement, the Peacock streaming service has failed to resonate with consumers. Less than 15 million people pay for the platform, which is offered free to Xfinity subscribers.

“I believe if Hulu was put up for sale, Comcast would be interested [in buying it],” Roberts said. “So would a lot of other tech and media companies. You would have a robust auction.”

Indeed, there never has been a bidding process for an established streaming player like Hulu, and such a process, Roberts contends, should not take place in private, rather than public markets.

Under the companies’ agreement, Disney has the right to acquire NBCUniversal’s stake, and Comcast has the right to a put, or the option, but not the obligation, to sell a specific asset at a predetermined price until a certain date.

“Of course, we are always happy to talk about it, and the value we structured into the [original operational control] agreement [with Disney] anticipates that a ‘robust’ auction for 100% of the company as a going concern and what would somebody pay for that, a third of the company’s equity value,” Roberts said.

In other words, Roberts contends Hulu represents “tremendous value,” a sentiment he believes Comcast shareholders are on board with. Whether the streaming platform and online TV service are put up for sale is Disney’s decision.

“Regardless, 100% value of Hulu is what we are entitled to,” Roberts said. “But if it were up for sale, we certainly, and I think others would want to get into that opportunity. I think our position [in Hulu] is very enviable for us and our shareholders. As a company, Hulu has done a spectacular job.”

Comcast CEO Roberts: ‘Marry Me,’ ‘Bel-Air’ Most-Streamed Movie, TV Show on Peacock

NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform has two hits to brag about. Romantic comedy Marry Me is the most-watched movie on the streamer concurrently available in theaters, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told an investor group — the executive’s first in-person investor event since the beginning of the pandemic.

Speaking March 7 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, Roberts added that “Bel-Air,” the Will Smith-produced reboot of his former TV series “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” is the most-watched series on Peacock. NBCUniversal heavily promoted the show on Peacock during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Marry Me, co-starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, has generated $21.7 million at the North American box office ($47 million globally) since its Feb. 11 release. The movie will be available through digital retail channels March 13, and on disc March 29.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Peacock original series “Bel-Air”

Roberts said that over the past two years, the second-most-popular new brand in the country after Zoom has been Peacock. The executive said the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl LVI were the most-streamed sporting events in history.

Roberts contends combining the broadcast content power of NBC with the Universal Studios’ movies for hybrid distribution on the ad-supported/SVOD service is a great strategy going forward. He reiterated that Universal’s new Pay-1 movie distribution deals forgoes HBO, moving directly to Peacock.

“I think we have a great story and great momentum with Peacock,” Roberts said.

In addition to Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Studios has aggressively sought to rejigger the theatrical window following the pandemic, including releasing movies into retail channels as soon as 17 days after their box office debut, depending on ticket sales.

The studio tried a different approach with Halloween Kills and The Boss Baby: Family Business. Both movies were made available on the Peacock platform concurrently with their theatrical release — a strategy Warner Bros. employed in 2021 with the Christmas Day 2020 debut of Wonder Woman 1984 — and ended this year prior to the release of The Batman.

Comcast Lost 1.5 Million Cable Subscribers in 2021

Comcast Cable Jan. 27 reported a loss of 1.49 million pay-TV subscribers in the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2021. That compared with a subscriber loss of 1.29 million in 2020. The cabler lost 349,000 subs in the fourth quarter, up 53% from a sub loss of 227,000 in the previous-year period. Comcast ended 2021 with 17.5 million pay-TV subs, down from 18.9 million in 2020.

On the flipside, Comcast continues to grow its high-speed internet market share, ending the year with 29.5 million broadband subscribers. That’s up 4.4% from 28.3 million subs in 2020. Broadband is a requisite conduit to distribute streaming video in subscriber households.

For the year, cable revenue increased 7.1% compared to 2020 to $64.3 billion, driven by growth in broadband, wireless, business services, advertising, video and other revenue, partially offset by a decrease in voice (i.e., telecom) revenue.

“Our top priority is increasing the capacity of our network in the U.S. and further improving our world-class broadband experience,” Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement. “[Our] strong operating and financial performance in 2021 was underscored by our highest full-year revenue, [pre-tax earnings] and free cash flow on record. We continue to execute extraordinarily well, strengthening our leadership position in connectivity, aggregation, and streaming.”

Comcast: Peacock Ended 2021 With Just 9 Million Paid Subs, $1.7 Billion Loss

NBCUniversal’s subscription/ad-supported streaming platform Peacock ended the fourth quarter and fiscal year (ended Dec. 31, 2021) with 24.5 million monthly average users (MAUs), and just 9 million paid subscribers Comcast disclosed Jan. 27 on the media giant’s fiscal call.

Peacock in 2021 generated an operating loss of $1.7 billion on revenue of $778 million, more than double the operating loss of $663 million on revenue of $118 million in 2020.

Comcast hasn’t disclosed actual numbers for the streaming platform since reporting 54 million signups and 20+ million MAUs in Q2 2021. The streaming service first launched in April 2020, going nationwide later that summer.

By comparison, Netflix ended 2021 with 222 million paid subs, while rivals Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have reported paid sub tallies of 111 million and 175 million, respectively. HBO Max and HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million paid subs. Paramount+ and Showtime Anytime ended the most-recent fiscal period with 42 million combined paid subs.

NBCUniversal is looking to jumpstart consumer interest in Peacock by offering access to the entire 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on the streaming service (subscription only), beginning Feb. 3. Peacock is also streaming select NBC NFL postseason games, in addition to WWE wrestling and European soccer.

Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts didn’t seem too worried (at least publicly) about the subscriber numbers.

“That [sub number] is without much focus on paid subscriber growth,” Roberts said on the call. “We have another seven million highly engaged bundle subscribers from Xfinity and other top distributors who use Peacock every single month and currently receive Peacock Premium and no extra cost.”

Comcast Ups European Expansion of U.S. Streaming Services With Apple TV+ Rollout

Comcast continues to do its part marketing third-party U.S. subscription streaming video across Europe, including a competitor to its proprietary Peacock platform, Apple TV+, on Dec. 14.

Since acquiring Sky for $31 billion, Comcast has redoubled the satellite TV operator’s marketing of SVOD services, including most recently Disney+ and Paramount+ (in 2022). In August, Comcast and ViacomCBS ironed out an agreement that will see Sky roll out Paramount+ in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, among other regions.

Media reports suggest ViacomCBS’s ad-supported streaming platform Pluto TV could soon be offered on Sky platforms as well — a move Comcast CEO Brian Roberts doesn’t seem to dissuade.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“What that might lead us to consider at least would be a partnership where we have unique capabilities that could lead to or enhance our international distribution,” Roberts said on a recent fiscal call.

Roberts’ transition from resolute pay-TV cheerleader to embracing SVOD has been apparent ever since Comcast stopped the presses in 2016 by welcoming Netflix onto its set-top universe. In 2018, Comcast added the Netflix app to its cloud-based Xfinity platform, which also includes YouTube and Hulu — the latter co-owned by Comcast and Disney.

“Netflix is a great partner, and we are excited to offer its services to our customers in new ways that provide them with more choice, value and flexibility,” Sam Schwartz, EVP and chief business development officer at Comcast, said at the time.

In November, Sky announced it would renew free 12-month subscriptions to its VIP members for the third-party discovery+ streaming platform.

“We’re working together with our partners to deliver the best apps and experiences on our platforms,” Roberts said. “And our teams are sharing capabilities and collaborating across the company collectively drawing on our scale and leadership and broadband aggregation and streaming to innovate and profitably serve new and existing customers.”

Brian Roberts: Comcast is ‘Really a Broadband Company’

Comcast has quietly become the top provider of high-speed Internet, or broadband connectivity in the United States (and globally), with 33 million customers and 31 million monthly subscribers.

Broadband is the lifeline for distribution of over-the-top video into consumer homes, including for SVOD services such as Peacock, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video.

Speaking Sept. 22 at the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said the company has been adding about 1 million broadband subscribers a year over the past 20 years — greatly offsetting ongoing declines in legacy cable TV subs.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“It’s a fantastic, well-sized business,” Roberts said. “So, we’re really a broadband company. That’s the shift that occurred over those 20 years.”

The executive said the goal is to “deepen” those broadband relationships through enhanced connectivity, free voice-based remote navigation of streaming video or less expensive access to Xfinity Mobile telecommunications.

To further accelerate broadband adoption domestically and in Europe through its Sky satellite TV subsidiary, Comcast just announced the launch of XiOne, new global wireless streaming device aimed at competing against Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast, among others.

“We’re building a [broadband] company we believe is sustainable, growing residential [subscribers] and business services and is second to none,” Roberts said.

The executive said the evolution of high-speed Internet over the past 10 years has moved beyond basic connectivity to delivering data across business, entertainment and educational segments.

“Ten years from today, I believe broadband will be just as unrecognizable,” Roberts said. “If you had to place a bet, you’d probably say it would probably happen faster, not slower than the pace of change the last 10 years before that.”

He said the ongoing rollout of xFi Pods affords Comcast households “wall-to-wall Wi-Fi” connectivity and more than 1 billion devices nationwide. Subscribers are also able to “pause” their Wi-Fi, in effect not being charged for unused data. Future enhancements include text messages to customers alerting them how to improve connectivity for household products, including stationary exercise devices.

“I think that positions our company as a leader in broadband, in an enviable place,” Roberts said. “It plays to our strengths, and I hope will lead the way as we invest in our network and develop these newer applications.”

Peacock Tops 54 Million Sign-Ups, 20 Million Paid Subs Driven by Tokyo Olympics; Expanding SVOD to Sky in Europe

NBCUniversal’s hybrid Peacock SVOD/AVOD streaming platform ended the second quarter (through June 30) and year-to-date with 54 million sign-ups and 20 million subscribers. It was the largest subscriber growth for the year-old Peacock service.

The growth was driven in part by the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as well as expedited access to Boss Baby: Family Business and original series “Dr. Death,” according to Comcast Corp. chairman/CEO Brian Roberts.

“This is 50% higher than our last report,” Roberts said on the fiscal call, adding that the current third quarter has been “particularly” strong in consumer awareness of the Peacock brand.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“We are unlikely to replicate such [subscription] performance [going forward], but we remain optimistic,” he said.

Roberts said that later this year, Sky, the European-based satellite TV platform would include Peacock to its 20 million subscribers at no additional cost.

“The benefits of this launch are tremendous,” he said, adding that the expanded Peacock marketing would enhance advertising and brand opportunities worldwide.

“The decision to make Peacock the anchor tenet on the X1 and Flex platforms for its domestic launch [in 2020], is a key driver of brand awareness, scale, consumption, promotion,” Roberts said. “We see a similar opportunity with Sky.”

Finally, Roberts said the Tokyo Games would be profitable for NBCUniversal despite the absence of spectators in the competition venues and reduced prime-time TV viewers through the first days of the quadrennial event.

News Analysis: Subs, Hype and Debt: Another Week in the Pursuit of Netflix-Like Relevance

NEWS ANALYSIS — Executives at media giants Disney, Comcast and AT&T took to virtual online events this week (and prior) to brag and cajole Wall Street investors regarding efforts to narrow the divide between their respective over-the-top video platforms and market behemoth Netflix.

The tape measures came out early with Disney CEO Bob Chapek announcing that the company’s branded SVOD platform, Disney+, had just surpassed 100 million subscribers, less than a month after reaching 95 million — but still less than 50% of Netflix’s 203 million subs at the end of 2020.

“The enormous success of Disney+ has inspired us to be even more ambitious,” Chapek said, adding the service plans to release 100-plus new titles per year across its Disney Pixar Animation, Disney Live Action, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic brands.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

By comparison, Netflix released more than three times that (371 movies and TV shows) in 2019, while reportedly launching 40 to 50 TV shows (some returning) and movies monthly in 2020. The SVOD pioneer earlier this month said it would alone bow 41 Indian movies and shows this year — a shot across the bow in response to the fact that 33% of Disney+ subs come from India.

Meanwhile, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar raised the bar on the company’s HBO Max service, telling investors he expects between 120 million and 150 million combined HBO Max/HBO subscribers by 2025 — up from the 75 million to 90 million projected in October 2019. The combined platforms ended 2020 with more than 41 million subs.

“We exceeded that milestone more than two years ahead of plan,” Kilar said. “The launch of Max has not only covered the decline in linear-TV subscribers, it has actually driven material growth.”

The co-founder/former CEO of Hulu told investors that based on third-party data, in-house number crunching, and a market-leading $14.99 monthly subscription fee, Max was the No. 2 revenue-generating SVOD in the United States — after Netflix.

When multiplying subs by subscription fees, HBO/HBO Max generated about $7.4 billion in revenue in 2020, compared with about $4.6 billion for Disney+. By comparison, Netflix generated $25 billion in revenue last year and added a record 37 million subs. Max plans to launch a lower priced, ad-supported option in June.

“The economics of Max’s growth are compelling,” Kilar said.

After a measured launch last summer, NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service ended 2020 with 33 million app sign-ups or people who created accounts, but weren’t necessarily paying for the SVOD/AVOD hybrid service. Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts claimed Peacock was the second-fastest growing brand (after Zoom) during the pandemic.

But at what cost? The company quietly disclosed in a regulatory filing that Peacock lost $914 million in 2020, while generating $118 million in revenue. Neither HBO Max nor Disney+ are yet profitable. Much of the Peacock fiscal loss is due to opportunity costs associated with NBCUniversal diverting programming to Peacock rather than third-party content licensees — a fiscal conundrum not lost upon Roberts.

“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?’” he said.

Analyst Rich Greenfield with Lightshed Partners has a possible suggestion: consolidation. Greenfield contends NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia should merge OTT video operations rather than going it alone to create greater competitive scale in a saturated marketplace.

“We believe it is time for both AT&T and Comcast to abandon the fool’s gold of vertical integration of content and distribution and merge NBCUniversal with WarnerMedia,” Greenfield wrote in a blog post last November. “Abandoning grandiose plans and empire building is a tough psychological hump to overcome. However, it would be a wildly accretive outcome for investors.”

Comcast Names Dana Strong Group CEO of Sky; Jeremy Darroch Upped to Executive Chairman

Borrowing a page from The Walt Disney Co., Comcast Jan. 6 announced that Sky Group CEO Jeremy Darroch will move from his current role to become executive chairman of Sky, and Dana Strong will succeed him as group CEO, reporting to Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.

Darroch is one of the longest-serving leaders of a major British company, having been CEO of Sky since 2007, and Group CFO since 2004. During that time, he has tripled the size of the business and led the transformation of the company into Europe’s largest multi-platform TV provider with nearly 24 million customers. Jeremy has accelerated the development of award-winning technology and championed Sky’s broader contribution to the society and communities in which it operates, overseeing the expansion of its commitment to sport, U.K., and European originated content, in-depth news, the arts, young people, and the environment.

Jeremy Darroch

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Strong most recently served as president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, the largest broadband and TV provider in the U.S. with nearly 33 million customer relationships. In this role, she was responsible for Comcast’s residential business and has led innovative new product and market launches in broadband, video, home security, and mobile. During her tenure, the company achieved record subscriber and broadband growth and the company’s highest levels of customer satisfaction.

With more than 25 years of international experience in global telecommunications and media in the U.K. and European markets, Strong was previously president/COO of Virgin Media in the U.K., Chief Transformation Officer of Liberty Global as well as CEO of UPC Ireland and COO of AUSTAR in Australia.

“I would like to thank Jeremy for his exceptional leadership of Sky and his partnership since we acquired the company,” Roberts said in a statement. “Sky’s values have been a perfect fit for ours and I credit Jeremy with building an incredible culture and executing the seamless integration with Comcast. He and his team have established a world-class brand and a strong, well-run business that will continue to flourish. Jeremy has been a terrific colleague to me and everyone at Sky, but I respect his decision and I am pleased that he’s agreed to stay on to help with the transition and advise the company.”

Roberts said Strong is an accomplished executive with an extraordinary ability to transform, inspire and drive positive change. He said the executive made her mark on our U.S. business, driving growth and innovation with her leadership and track record at some of the largest media and telecommunications companies in the world.

“[This] make[s] her the perfect leader for Sky,” Roberts said.

Darroch said the decision to exit the CEO position was not easy after 13 years at the helm. But with the business firmly settled into the wider Comcast corporate structure, it was the right time to change.

“I would like to thank all of my colleagues at Sky and also Brian and the team at Comcast who I have thoroughly enjoyed working with,” said Darroch. “I have no doubt that Dana will take Sky into a new and exciting future. Her proven record for leading telecommunications and media businesses coupled with her experience in the U.S., U.K., and Europe will be great assets to Sky, and I look forward to working with her as she takes the reins.”

The corporate move is similar to Disney’s decision last year elevating longtime CEO Bob Iger to executive chairman, and promoting former home entertainment executive Bob Chapek to lead the media giant.

Peacock Streaming Service Tops 22 Million Subs; Adds 7 Million Subs Following Roku Deal

NBCUniversal’s subscription streaming video service Peacock reached 22 million subscribers through Oct. 29. The tally increased by 7 million subs in the past month thanks to an app distribution agreement with Roku hammered out in mid-September. Total Peacock subs now top Comcast’s legacy cable business.

Launched on July 15, the SVOD/AVOD platform represents the media company’s attempt to compete against Netflix, Disney+ and other OTT video platforms, in addition to safeguarding against ongoing erosion of the pay-TV ecosystem.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“We are exceeding our expectations on all engagement metrics in only a few months,” Brian Roberts, CEO of parent Comcast Corp., said in a statement. Speaking later on the fiscal call, Roberts said Peacock’s AVOD component and NBCUniversal annual content spend has helped lure sign-ups.

“[AVOD] has significantly reduce marketing expenses compared with other streaming services,” he said.

Indeed, driven by a renewed strategic focus on broadband, aggregation and streaming, Comcast added a record 633,000 high-speed Internet customers in the quarter and 556,000 total net new customer relationships.

“We’re growing our entertainment platforms with the addition of Flex [for broadband-only subscribers], which has a significant positive impact on broadband churn and customer lifetime value,” Roberts said.

The subscriber growth continues to offset ongoing declines in Comcast’s legacy cable business. The segment saw another steep drop in pay-TV subs, losing 273,000 subs in the quarter — widening almost 14% from a loss of 222,000 subs in the previous-year period. Through nine months of the fiscal year, Comcast Cable tallied 19.2 million subs, down 1.2 million subs from the same period last year.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we believe we are extremely well positioned to provide … integrated experiences for our customers and to deliver … long-term growth and returns for our shareholders,” Roberts said.