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.

 

 

Comcast in Talks with Disney to Sell Hulu Stake

Comcast reportedly is in talks with Disney to sell its 30% stake in Hulu, which includes online television platform Hulu with Live TV, according to CNBC, which cited internal sources.

CNBC is owned by Comcast business unit NBC Universal.

Disney currently owns 60% of the 12-year-old streaming service with 25 million subscribers after it acquired 20th Century Fox. AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit just sold its 10% stake back to Hulu for $1.43 billion.

The discussions, which CNBC said are in the preliminary stage, were revealed hours after Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts told investors the cable giant enjoyed owning a large stake of a Disney asset.

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“On Hulu, the relationship with NBC, it’s very much in everybody’s interest to maintain,” Roberts said on the all. “And we have no new news today on it, other than it’s really valuable. And we’re really glad we own a large piece of it.”

At the same time, with Disney firmly in control of Hulu and Comcast heretofore reluctant to move too far away from the pay-TV business model, selling its stake in an over-the-top business could help Comcast alleviate more than $100 billion in corporate debt following the $39 billion Sky acquisition.

Comcast reportedly could get $4.5 billion for its stake in Hulu, which lost $1.5 billion in 2018. Disney doesn’t expect Hulu to become profitable until 2024 — and only after possible international expansion.

At the same time, NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke remains skeptical of OTT business model, including Netflix.

“To be worth $150 billion, someday you’ve got to make at least $10 billion in EBITDA,” Burke told CNBC last year. “There’s at least a chance Netflix never makes that.”

Comcast, which only recently incorporated direct access to Netflix for its Xfinity pay-TV subscribers, plans to launch an OTT service for Xfinity in 2020.

Comcast Delaying 2020 AVOD Launch?

Comcast’s NBC Universal is set to launch an ad-supported over-the-top video service in 2020, targeting existing pay-TV subscribers as well as standalone consumers.

Or is it?

The launch was put into question after Comcast CEO Brian Roberts appeared to punt when asked about a specific timeframe for the OTT video service’s availability.

Speaking Feb. 26 at the Morgan Stanley technology, media & telecom confab in San Francisco, Roberts said a date remained in the works.

“We’ll refine it as we go along,” he said. “We’re all in to create it and not be like Netflix. We’ll launch when it’s ready.”

Roberts said the service gives NBC Universal – which will manage the platform – the opportunity to deliver “smart ads” to new consumers, while enabling current pay-TV distributors the ability to “give more value” to their video customers – for free.

“What can we do that consumers will like and creates value for our shareholders?” Robert said.

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Comcast has long eschewed OTT video, arguing its legacy cable service and Xfinity X1 set-top box offer superior content and access options.

Declaring that Comcast, which acquired U.K. satellite TV operator Sky last year, sits on “an awful lot of content,” Roberts said some programming would be better monetized through AVOD, while other shows would be more suited to third-party platforms.

“We produce or purchase $24 billion worth of content (entertainment and sports) across the globe,” he said.

The executive said that remaining loyal to traditional distribution has contributed to NBC Universal tripling pre-tax earnings since Comcast acquired the company from GE in 2009.

“We don’t have the mindset to take it off all these existing distribution platforms, including HBO, pay-TV and broadcast TV,” Roberts said.

Thinking Globally

Following Comcast’s $39 billion acquisition of Sky, which operates business units in the U.K., Germany and Italy, the media company represents 15% of the global broadband and video market, while generating about 50% of the world’s broadband and video revenue, according to Roberts.

He said Comcast and Sky represent 4% of global broadband/video consumers and 12% of the revenue, which increases to 25% in the U.K.

“They are clearly the markets you want to operate in,” Roberts said. “We are growing our market share. I don’t think anybody has the scale we have and market opportunity.”

Indeed, high-speed Internet has become the company’s most-profitable business unit, with annual growth exceeding 10%.

5G More Hype than Bite

Roberts shrugged off 5G wireless industry chatter, likening the next-generation mobile technology similar to hype surrounding Google Fiber, which launched to much fanfare in 2010, and was scaled back by Google in 2016 due to rollout costs.

The CEO questioned whether 5G could be cheaper than fiber or coaxial.

“The answer is absolutely not,” Roberts said. “At least not in our judgement. It’s much more expensive.”

Comcast’s broadband subscribers use 100 times more data than the average mobile user, according to Roberts.

“They’re hoping to get to the speeds we have today,” he said. “And by the time they do, we’re hoping to be 10 times faster with wired.

“5G is one of these moments. We know it’s coming, what its implications will be, [and] we have people staying on top it.”

Finally, Roberts lauded Universal Pictures’ Best Picture Oscar for Green Book and weekend box office win for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

“I don’t think that’s happened very often in Hollywood where you do both on the same weekend,” he said.

 

 

Comcast Has High Hopes for Pending Streaming Video Service

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.

 

 

Comcast Cable Lost 344,000 Video Subs in 2018

Comcast Cable Jan. 23 disclosed it lost 344,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2018, which was nearly 85% more than the 186,000 subs lost in 2017.

In the fourth quarter (ended Dec. 31), Comcast lost 19,000 video subs compared to 38,000 subs in the previous-year period.

The losses underscore ongoing secular changes in the industry as consumers opt for alternative home entertainment distribution channels, including over-the-top video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, and online TV platforms such as Sling TV and DirecTV Now.

Indeed, Xfinity X1, Comcast’s Web-based set-to platform, has added direct access to Netflix, Prime Video and YouTube to keep pay-TV subs.

The subscriber losses also impacted sales of digital movies and TV shows. Video revenue decreased 1.8% to $22.4 billion from $22.8 billion, primarily reflecting a decrease in the number of residential video customers.

Comcast, which doesn’t have standalone online TV or OTT video platforms, does benefit as one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers. The company added 1.23 million high-speed Internet subs in 2018 compared to 1 million net additions in 2017.

High-speed Internet revenue increased 9.3% to $17.1 billion from $15.7 billion, driven by an increase in the number of residential high-speed internet customers and rate adjustments.

Corporate CES Brian Roberts said he was pleased by the “strong” operational and financial results, including the 13th consecutive year of more than 1 million broadband net additions.

In addition, with the closing of the acquisition of British satellite TV operator Sky, Roberts said Comcast has transformed into a global company.

Indeed, Sky revenue increased 2.4% to $5 billion in the fourth quarter. Excluding the impact of currency, revenue increased 5.6%, reflecting higher direct-to-consumer, content and advertising revenue.

Direct-to-consumer revenue increased 4% to $4 billion, driven by improved product penetration for pay-TV, growth in Sky Mobile and Sky Fibre customers, as well as rate adjustments in the U.K.

The quarter’s average direct-to-consumer revenue per customer relationship increased by about 1%. Content revenue increased 35.7% to $363 million, primarily reflecting the wholesaling of sports programming, including exclusive sports rights recently acquired in Italy and Germany, increased penetration of premium sports and movie channels on third party pay-TV networks in the U.K. and monetization of our slate of original programming.

“[We] are excited about its future and the potential of our combined company in 2019 and beyond,” Roberts said in a statement.

 

 

 

Sky Boss Jeremy Darroch Says He’s ‘Sticking Around’ Euro Pay-TV Operator Following Comcast’s Acquisition

Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of Comcast Corp.’s newly-owned Sky subsidiary, said he plans on remaining at the U.K. satellite TV operator following Comcast’s $40 billion acquisition.

Speaking Oct. 25 on Comcast’s fiscal call, Darroch said he looked forward to leading Sky, which has more than 15 million subscribers, including subsidiaries Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia.

“We’re all energized by the next phase of growth and the additional opportunities that being part of Comcast will bring, on top of delivering our existing plans,” he said.

The news seemed to please Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts, who introduced Darroch on the fiscal call. Indeed, for Darroch – who received a $47.4 million golden parachute following the close of the acquisition – not remaining at Sky could have proved a challenge to Comcast’s nascent international strategies.

“We’re really excited and pleased with the [Sky] management team” said Roberts. “We are delighted that Jeremy and many of the team, the senior team, we hope and believe are going to stay with the company.”

With Roberts agreeing to pay more than twice what 21stCentury Fox offered for outstanding interest in Sky, media analysts in the United States have questioned how the deal will be accretive for Comcast shareholders going forward.

“It seems as though they would like investors to forget that Sky is also a satellite TV provider, and satellite video distribution is increasingly becoming obsolete,” Craig Moffett, with MoffettNathanson Research, wrote in a note last month.