Comcast’s Sky Inks Movie Distribution Deal With StudioCanal

Sky, the Comcast-owned European satellite TV distributor, and StudioCanal, the world’s No. 3 movie library, Jan. 18 announced a partnership to afford Sky’s 24 million subscribers access to hundreds of hours of movies on Sky Q and separately on Now TV.

Under the deal, StudioCanal’s titles scheduled for release this month will be brought to Sky Cinema and Now TV after their theatrical release. Customers will get access to upcoming titles, including 2021 Awards hopeful Supernova, JoJo Moyes adaptation The Last Letter From Your Lover, female action thriller Gunpowder Milkshake, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy starring in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.

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In addition to the theatrical slate, from the start of 2021 movies from StudioCanal’s existing library will be brought onto Sky Cinema and Now TV. Titles include Paddington and Paddington 2, A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, as well as action titles Legend and Logan Lucky and award-winning movies The Imitation Game and The Hurt Locker.

“At Sky, we’re committed to bringing customers everything they love, in one place, and our partnership with StudioCanal is another step toward doing just that,” Sarah Wright, director of Sky Cinema & acquisitions, Sky U.K., said in a statement.

StudioCanan and Sky previously worked together on two Sky Originals — The Secret Garden, based on the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Blithe Spirit, a reimagining of Noël Coward’s classic comedy, which premiered on Jan. 15. The deal also follows the announcement in December of a multiyear pay-TV and streaming rights deal between Sky Deutschland and StudioCanal across all Sky distribution channels in Germany and Austria.

In the latter part of 2020, Sky finalized a new multiyear European partnership with Amazon, launching Prime Video on Sky and Now TV devices, and signed a long-term partnership with Entertainment One, bolstering Sky Cinema’s offerings.

“We are delighted to be bringing our exciting upcoming line up of films and the glories of the StudioCanal catalog to the fantastic and ever evolving Sky platform,” said Alex Hamilton, CEO StudioCanal U.K. “We look forward to a great collaboration together over the coming months and beyond.”

 

Netflix No. 2 TV Group in Europe in Revenue

The Netflix star just gets brighter. New data from Ampere Analysis reveals that the SVOD behemoth became the second largest TV group in Europe by revenue in 2020. Comcast, through its acquisition of satellite TV operator Sky, is the Euro leader with 12% market share compared to Netflix’s 6.1%.

“Since launching in 2012, Netflix has grown rapidly in Europe,” analyst Tony Maroulis said in a statement.

Indeed, by 2016, Netflix had launched its services across much of Europe and surpassed $1 billion in revenue. By 2017, it had the largest customer tally of any subscription TV business in Europe. And by 2020, Netflix had overtaken German public broadcaster ARD.

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It would seem that there is no limit to Netflix’s meteoric rise as the streamer continues outsized foreign growth, and helps itself to a greater portion of the audio-visual revenue.

“While Netflix has enjoyed success across the continent, local broadcasters are facing increased pressure,” said Maroulis. “The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the TV advertising market into decline, compounding and accelerating the woes of traditional and established brands. And while Netflix’s pockets are getting deeper, local entities are struggling to compete.”

Ampere contends that over the next few years, Netflix alone is set to be better funded than many leading commercial broadcasters, and its scale means that it is able to produce quantities of high-quality content that most of its local competitors cannot match.

“This global vs. local imbalance will further accelerate the online viewing shift, which is now beginning to shift to older demographics as well as young,” Maroulis said.

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.

Amazon Prime Video, Sky Partner for Direct Access

In an ongoing trend uniting strange bedfellows, Amazon Prime Video and Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky have partnered in a multiyear deal. The pact gives Sky Q set-top and Now TV subscribers in the U.K., Italy and Germany direct access to the Prime Video app — heretofore a SVOD competitor to NowTV and pay-TV. Prime Video joins Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer and Roxio as third-party streaming services directly available to Sky subscribers — with a separate subscription.

“Sky Q customers are receiving an early Christmas present on their boxes this year in the form of Amazon Prime Video,” Stephen van Rooyen, CEO of U.K. and Europe Sky, said in a statement. “This will make it even easier for you to access everything you love, in one place.”

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The Prime Video app bows on NowTV devices, as well as Sky Ticket in Germany, on Dec. 14. The NowTV app will also be available on select Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs across Italy, Ireland, Austria and Switzerland next year. Sky Ticket will be available on Fire TV and Fire TV Edition in Germany.

“With winter settling in, and our new binge-watch obsession ‘The Wilds’ about to launch, it’s a perfect time for Sky customers to catch up on our award-winning Prime Video TV shows, movies, and live sport,” said Jay Marine, VP of Prime Video worldwide.

CBS All Access Coming to Comcast’s Xfinity X1 Pay-TV Platform

Comcast Cable Dec. 7 announced that the ViacomCBS subscription streaming video service CBS All Access will be available on the Xfinity X1 platform this week, following the launch of the app on Xfinity Flex earlier this year. Xfinity is the first pay-TV provider to offer CBS’s branded streaming service, which is changing to Paramount+ in 2021. The platform joins Netflix and YouTube as major third-party SVOD services available directly to Xfinity subs.

The partnership is notable considering NBCUniversal operates SVOD competitor Peacock, which launched nationwide this summer.

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X1 subs will be able to All Access’ offering of more than 20,000 episodes and movies from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures, in addition to original series like “Star Trek: Discovery,” with new episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays; the upcoming limited event series “The Stand,” premiering Dec. 17 and based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel; as well as the recently debuted docuseries “Texas 6,” and many more.

All Access also offers live streaming access to major sports, including some of the world’s biggest soccer leagues, along with CBSN for 24/7 news, CBS Sports HQ for sports news and analysis, and ET Live for entertainment coverage. For Flex customers, All Access enables them to stream local CBS-affiliate stations live, including CBS Sports broadcasts.

To launch the app and access the streaming service over the Internet, X1 customers can say “CBS All Access” into the Xfinity Voice Remote. They can also say the title of an All Access Originals or browse All Access programming within collections curated by Xfinity’s team of TV editors, such as “Explore CBS All Access” and “December Premieres.” X1 subs can also find All Access children’s programming, which includes more than 1,000 episodes, including new seasons of “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” “Danger Mouse,” and related series from Nickelodeon. X1 and Flex customers will continue to All Access availability when the service is rebranded as Paramount+ early next year.

Sky and eOne Ink Movie Distribution Deal

Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky and Hasbro-owned Entertainment One (eOne) on Nov. 25 announced a long-term partnership that will afford Sky subscribers access to hundreds of hours of movie content. The deal covers both eOne’s existing 200-film library and new releases in development.

Starting next summer, Sky will have the pay-TV rights to eOne’s first-run feature films, including the animated kids’ title Two by Two: Overboard!, which debuted in October at the top of the U.K./Ireland box office.

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eOne’s library includes the “Twilight” and “Divergent” franchises, Young VictoriaDallas Buyers Club and Looper. A  number of new releases will also be available to Sky Cinema subs, including holiday rom-com Happiest Season, starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen, which bypassed a U.K. theatrical release due to the pandemic. Existing movie library titles are available now to Sky Cinema and Now TV Cinema Pass customers in the U.K. and Ireland.

“This year alone we’ve struck agreements with Disney, Discovery, Sony and DreamWorks Animation to increase the variety of content available on Sky Q,” Stephen van Rooyen, CEO of U.K. & Europe Sky, said in a statement.

Sky subs currently have access to content from Netflix, Disney+ (U.K. and Ireland), WarnerMedia (HBO), Showtime, Discovery, Fox and Sony, among others.

eOne is one of the top independent film distributors in the U.K., generating more than £1.13 billion ($1.51 billion) at the U.K. and Irish box office in the past 12 years. Top titles include Stan & OllieThe Girl on the TrainThe BFG12 Years a SlaveThe Twilight Saga, and more recently Sam Mendes’ World War I epic 1917.

“A partnership of this scale marks one of the biggest strategic deals we’ve done this year,” said Stuart Baxter, president of international distribution at eOne. “We’re confident they will be a brilliant marketing partner for our content, working with us through the entire lifecycle.”

 

Comcast Eyes More Than $700 Million in Severance, COVID-19 Costs Through Year’s End

The current fourth quarter will not be a good one for some Comcast/NBCUniversal employees as the cable and media giant grabbles with internal restructuring and fiscal realities mandated by of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on business operations.

Speaking Oct. 29 on a fiscal call, CFO Mike Cavanagh said the company had endured $239 million in year-to-date costs related to layoffs and the pandemic across cable, amusement and NBCUniversal operations. That figure is expected to more than double through the end of the year to more than $700 million. Media reports suggest more than 300 employees at NBCUniversal could lose their jobs in television, studio and streaming by the end of the year.

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said the staff cuts and costs would impact the company well into 2021, underscoring the company’s “obligation” to adjust costs as revenue declines. The company recently consolidated all English-language TV networks under Frances Berwick for business operations and Susan Rovner for programming, including streaming.

“I really don’t think the definition of success is any different than it’s ever been,” Shell said. “Our job is to be profitable, generate cash flow and generate long-term value for the company, and that’s how we’re thinking about everything. And it is obviously a very changing world so you have to be nimble in doing that — but the measure of that are the same as they’ve always been.”

Shell said the [restructuring] going forward enables the company to find “great content” in a pandemic-impacted production world and use the streaming, broadband and cable platforms to maximize the value of it.

“It sets us up to grow as the world changes,” he said.

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, Roku Set to Announce First-Ever Peacock Carriage Deal

Carriage disputes traditionally occurring between content holders and pay-TV distributors have gone over-the-top — and now have a happy ending.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit and streaming media pioneer Roku are set to announce in the next few days a carriage agreement that would include the media giant’s TV Everywhere channels and — for the first time — distribution of the Peacock streaming video platform. TV Everywhere channels (i.e. apps) include NBC, Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA Networks.

The tentative agreement, disclosed by a source familiar with the situation, would put to end a long-running impasse that has kept Peacock off the Roku (and Amazon Fire TV) platform since it launched in July. Comcast this week disclosed the platform has 15 million subscribers since launching nationwide.

Until this agreement, which should be announced in the coming days, NBCUNiversal had threatened to remove its TV Everywhere apps from the Roku platform.

“Comcast is removing the channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms,” Roku said previously in statement.

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Indeed, Peacock, like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max subscription streaming video platform, had issue with Roku over distribution fees (Roku takes 20% cut) and revenue sharing (30%), among other issues. The situation is similar to carriage spats between content holders and pay-TV operators that often lead to channel blackouts.

NBCUniversal contends that during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the need for video content — both ad-supported and subscription-based — is vital.

“Roku has made the extremely unfortunate decision to remove NBCUniversal’s leading content from their platform,” said a rep in a statement. “We are disappointed Roku is removing its users’ free access to NBCUniversal programming, 11 network apps, 12 NBC Owned Station apps, 23 Telemundo Owned Station apps — and continues to block access to the only free premium streaming service available in the market, Peacock.”

NBCUniversal contended Roku’s “unreasonable” demands hurt both their consumers and their consumer equipment partners to whom they’ve promised access to all apps in the marketplace.

The Roku platform had more than 43 million active user accounts at the end of June. Roku is projected to end the year with 52 million user accounts — or 40% of all U.S. broadband households, according to Conviva.

The Motley Fool reported that the average Roku user streamed 3.64 hours of content a day in the first quarter, ended March 31. That translated to 13.2 billion hours users spent consuming content on the platform, which was up 49% from the previous-year period. That tally has likely exploded during the coronavirus pandemic.

Roku argues that by not agreeing with its terms, NBCUniversal is losing out on “hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenue. CNBC, which is owned by NBCUniversal, reported that its parent is seeking the distribution fee be cut to 15%, in addition to remedying an ad-software issue.

“[NBCUniversal is] hesitant about connecting Peacock with third-party software it can’t control,]” CNBC said in its report.

Bonnie Hammer Upped to Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal; Pearlena Igbokwe to Chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios

Comcast Corp. continues to restructure senior management in the aftermath of several abrupt senior executive departures at NBCUniversal.

The media giant Sept. 9 announced that 30-year veteran Bonnie Hammer has been tapped to take former NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer’s position, while Pearlena Igbokwe replaces Hammer in the chairman position of the NBCUniversal Content Group, which includes Universal Television, Universal Content Productions and NBCUniversal International Studios. Both positions report to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.

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Meyer, 75, exited the studio last month after 25 years following disclosure of a personal affair with a young actress. His ouster followed the dismissal of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy, who was shown the door following allegations of promoting a hostile work environment.

“This is an exciting time for our business, with demand for entertainment content at an all-time high and more distribution platforms available than ever before,” Shell said in a statement regarding Igbokwe, Hammer promotions. “Our television studios are key growth engines for the company, and Pearlena is ideally suited to lead them. She has extraordinary taste and is well-respected within NBCU, and throughout the global creative community.”

Shell lauded Hammer’s “deep industry experience” and “impeccable creative instincts” as key to her promotion. “I am extremely pleased to be gaining Bonnie as a trusted adviser,” Shell said. “Her 25-plus years of prosocial advocacy will be immensely valuable to me and our company.”