Comcast Pushes Up Hulu Sales Window to Sept. 30 From January 2024

Comcast, the minority owner of the Hulu subscription streaming video and online TV platform, is pushing up the sales window for its 33% stake to begin Sept. 30, from the previously planned January 2024 time period.

Disney, through its acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019, acquired 67% ownership and operational control of Hulu. Comcast and Hulu set a 2024 date for when Disney could acquire Comcast’s stake for an amount of no less than $27.5 billion.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, speaking Sept. 6 at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia & Technology Conference in San Francisco, said the decision to expedite the sales process is due in part to the unique nature of what he claims is the first-time sale/auction of a major SVOD player, and the requisite appraisal process.

“We pulled the date forward to start the process,” Roberts said. The executive spent the bulk of his presentation espousing the value of Hulu and its legacy in the SVOD ecosystem.

“Hulu is a great business,” Roberts said. “In the U.S., the most important market, it’s clearly the No. 2 SVOD/AVOD service behind Netflix, which has a $200 billion market valuation today. I think Netflix and Hulu together are in a class by themselves.”

The executive said, based on Nielsen data, that Hulu has upwards of three-times the viewer engagement of any other streaming service not named Netflix.

Roberts said the appraisal process is very unusual, since it values Hulu as an “as-is” business, meaning the totality of the streamer’s value in the direct-to-consumer market and as a standalone service.

Hulu ended the most-recent fiscal period with 44 million paid subscribers, excluding 4.3 million Hulu + Live TV subscribers.

“Nobody has ever sold off, or auctioned off, a pure-play streaming service,” Roberts said. “That’s a scarce, kingmaker asset [to] whoever would get that.”

Indeed, Roberts hasn’t ruled out Comcast keeping its stake, or selling it to a third-party, contending the platform’s value is underscored by its content portfolio and bundled offering with Disney+ and ESPN+, which the executive says is a churn killer.

“You have your own billions of dollars worth of synergy as a buyer, which alone could be worth $30 billion to a buyer — before ascribing any value to Hulu itself,” Roberts said.

The CEO now contends the original $27.5 billion figure is just a hypothetical number “bandied about five years ago” because Disney had control of the company.

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“It’s way more valuable today than it was back then,” Roberts said. “We’re excited to get this resolved.”

The executive said that any Hulu asset sale would be given back to investors.

“Both companies [including Disney] are well-served to have clarity for [their] investors,” Roberts said. “Our plan is return the [sales proceeds] to shareholders through stock buybacks.”

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts: ‘More Likely Than Not’ Selling Hulu Stake to Disney

Comcast has apparently cooled to the idea of retaining and/or expanding its ownership stake in the subscription streaming VOD service Hulu.

Speaking May 16 on the MoffettNathanson’s Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in New York, chairman/CEO Brian Roberts told attendees that it seemed “more likely than not” the media giant would cash in its 33% stake in Hulu next year in a previously arranged agreement with Disney to sell its minority stake for a minimum guaranteed amount of $9.3 billion.

Brian Roberts

Disney owns the majority 66% stake and operating control following its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s studio assets in 2019.

Roberts said a Hulu stake sale would be a first for a major SVOD player, and would be made even more valuable by the platform’s lifeline of Fox and Disney content. The executive’s sentiments seemed to suggest Comcast no longer is interested in acquiring Disney’s stake in Hulu — as was the case when Bob Chapek was CEO of Disney.

“I think we have a very valuable position,” Roberts said, echoing past statements made regarding Comcast’s leverage in the negotiations. “What would a willing buyer [for Hulu] in a robust auction pay?”

Disney CEO Bob Iger, on the company’s May 10 fiscal call, said the company would be combining the Disney+/Hulu apps into a singular bundled app offering this year.

“It’s clear that a combination of the content that is on Disney+ with general entertainment [on Hulu] is a very positive, is a very strong combination,” Iger said. “From a subscriber perspective, from a subscriber acquisition, subscriber retention perspective, and also from an advertiser’s perspective.”

Hulu, unlike Disney+, ended its latest fiscal period with a subscriber gain. The service picked up 200,000 subscribers to top 48.2 million. Disney+ lost 4 million subs.

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Comcast Ups CFO Mike Cavanagh to President Position

Comcast Corporation Oct. 12 announced that Mike Cavanagh has been named president of the media giant, to work closely with chairman/CEO Brian Roberts to manage the businesses and teams across the company. Cavanagh will be only the third president in the company’s 59-year history. He will remain chief financial officer.

The promotion opens the door to a possible successor should Roberts decide to retire from his CEO position.

“Today’s promotion will come as no surprise — Mike is admired and trusted by those who know and work with him,” Roberts said in a statement. “Mike has brought incredible operational and financial expertise to Comcast and is an integral part of our special company. He’s an outstanding partner and together we are focused on continuing to create new and exciting opportunities for growth.”

Cavanagh joined Comcast seven years ago as CFO after more than 20 years in the financial services industry, including co-CEO of JPMorgan Chase’s corporate and investment bank from 2012 to 2014.

He earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago. He serves on the board of trustees of Yale and is chairman of its investment committee, which has more than $40 billion under management.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.