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

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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.

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“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.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock Streaming Service Tops 15 Million Subs Since Launching in July

NBCUniversal’s upstart SVOD/AVOD streaming video platform, Peacock, has surpassed 15 million subscribers, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts Sept. 15 told a virtual investor event. Peacock topped 10 million subs six weeks after launching nationwide in July.

“That’s 50% more than just six weeks ago,” Roberts said from his home on the Goldman Sachs 29th Annual Communicopia Conference. The CEO said the convergence of entertainment distribution between media and tech companies across multiple platforms has become an ongoing reality — driven by broadband and streaming video.

Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts

“We saw this coming and feel we are one of the best companies to play offense in this environment,” Roberts said.

Indeed, as Comcast continues to hemorrhage pay-TV subscribers (477,000 in Q2), the cable operator has quietly become one of the world’s largest ISPs and (broadband) distributors — adding 1.6 million high-speed Internet subscribers in the past 12 months, to end Q2 with 29.4 million subs. Roberts said that Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky is now the No. 2 broadband provider in Italy and Germany.

The executive said that Comcast would bring two Olympic Games and the Super Bowl to NBC over the next 18 months, in addition to Peacock. Roberts envisions the hybrid SVOD/AVOD platform to be complementary to pay-TV and not necessarily an all-or-nothing replacement.

“Peacock is big part of the ecosystem but not the only part,” Roberts said, adding that content development going forward would be distributed in the channel delivering it the most consumer retention.

“First and foremost develop content that resonates and then determine maybe its for network and Peacock, maybe just Peacock, and maybe we’ll go across all three: broadcast, broadband and Peacock,” he said. “We think that gets us a better focus on decision making.”

Comcast Pledges $100 Million to Fight Racism, Advance Social Justice

Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts June 8 issued a letter decrying the civil unrest rocking the country since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day.

Roberts said Comcast would pledge $100 million to fight for social justice and equality, which includes $75 million cash and $25 million in media spending.

“We know that Comcast alone can’t remedy this complex issue,” Roberts wrote. “But you have my commitment that our company will try to play an integral role in driving lasting reform. Together, we hope to help create a more equitable, just and inclusive society.”

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Specifically, Roberts said the media giant would partner with, and provide significant grants to, organizations working to eradicate injustice and inequity. Organizations will include but not be limited to: the National Urban League, the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Action Network and the Community Justice Action Fund.

Roberts said Comcast would put the “full weight” of its media resources behind highlighting black voices and black stories and educating viewers on diverse and inclusive cultures, perspectives and experiences, by making anti-racism education and inequality awareness a priority.

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“We will use our platforms across the organization to continue to shed light on societal issues related to race,” Roberts wrote. “NBC News will host a series of Town Halls, similar to their ‘Can You Hear Us Now’ special that aired this past Tuesday, and we will use the X1, Flex, Peacock and Sky platforms to promote and amplify multicultural content.”

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.