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 — 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.

Netflix, Sky Re-Up Distribution Agreement

Comcast’s love affair with Netflix expands overseas. The cable giant’s Sky satellite TV subsidiary in the United Kingdom has renewed a distribution agreement with Netflix first inked in 2018.

Under terms of the new deal, Sky subscribers will be able to access Netflix on Sky Q, including Netflix originals “The Witcher,” The Irishman and “Sex Education.”

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“This is a great start to what is set to be another strong year for Sky,” CEO Stephen van Rooyen with Sky U.K. and Ireland, said in a statement. “Our customers love Netflix content and our partnership continues to go from strength to strength, we plan to launch new channels and genres, start building our new studio, Sky Studios Elstree, and we’ll have great new and returning Sky originals too.”

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Peacock Streaming Service Launching April 15 With AVOD and SVOD Options

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke Jan. 16 announced the April 15 launch of branded subscription streaming video service Peacock on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex video platforms before bowing nationwide on July 15, offering more than 600 movies and 400 series and ranging from free (ad-supported Peacock Free app) to $4.99 and $9.99 (in 4K UHD).

Peacock Platinum will target 24 million pay-TV subs, including Comcast Cable and third-party partner Cox Communications priced at $4.99 monthly. The company expects to reach 30-35 million active accounts by 2024.

Speaking from Studio8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, Burke highlighted the advantanges of over-the-top video by the recent return to “Saturday Night Live” with Eddie Murphy, which he said saw a 31% uptick in viewership due in part to streaming.

“On-demand vieweing has generated larger and  larger audiences, but we don’t know how to monetize them well,” Burke said. “We don’t the control the consumer experience.”

The executive said that with Peacock there’s “a clear opportunity” to create a streaming property “we control and own.”

Burke said the ad-supported business is a proven business model. Working with Sky’s Now TV, which will provide the technology backbone to the Peacock service, Burke said Comcast, NBC Universal and Sky offer a great business opportunity entering the OTT ecosystem.

Peacock’s AVOD launch sponsors include Eli Lilly and Company, State Farm, Target and Unilever.

Linda Yaccarino, chairperson of NBC Universal Advertising, said the streaming service would help advertisers reach consumers at a lower cost.

“Without scale you can’t have impact,” Yaccarino said, adding that Peacock would have the “lightest ad load” in the OTT industry, with just five minutes of ads per hour of programming.

“[The] best possible environment for consumers and advertisers,” she said.

Tina Fey, who credited her start in show business to NBC, came on stage to announce her new original series, “Girls5Eva,” about a one-hit-wonder girl group from the 90’s that reunites to give their pop star dreams one more shot.

The platform will be the non-exclusive streaming platform to more than 1,000 episodes featuring “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” and “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.” franchises from creator Dick Wolf.

The platform also inked a deal for “Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud” comedy series.

Peacock will also stream Paramount Network series “Yellowstone,” the Kevin Costner drama, licensed from ViacomCBS. Additionally, “Two and a Half Men,” and “The George Lopez Show” from Warner Brothers were announced.

Noteworthy original series in development for Peacock include: “Expecting,” from Mindy Kaling, “Division One,” from Amy Poehler, “Clean Slate,” from Norman Lear and “MacGruber,” from Will Forte.

Previously announced Peacock scripted originals include comedies such as “Rutherford Falls,” “Saved by the Bell,” “A.P. Bio,” “Punky Brewster,” and the movie spinoff “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home,” as well as dramas “Dr. Death,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Brave New World,” “Angelyne” and “Armas de Mujer.”

Movie selections will be curated by online ticket service Fandango, which is owned by Comcast. Peacock will have the exclusive streaming rights for the 2020 Universal film slate and beyond in the network window. Films will include live action feature films, including Fast & Furious 9 and Jurassic World 3.

Matt Strauss, chairman, Peacock and NBCUniversal digital enterprises, said consumers are watching more premium content than in the history of television. But the rise in streaming video challenges include content fragmentation, endless scrolling and prices.

He that while 65% of time people know what they want to watch. Peacock will have robust on-demand content offering. Borrowing from Spotify, Peacock will have channels of content, trending playlists, and dedicated channels of programming for specific users.

“We see this as an opportunity with Peacock,” he said.

Seth Meyers, who opened with a Theranos joke (for the investor audience), said Studio8H has been incubator for televised comedy and conduit for Peacock’s comedy slate.

Jimmy Fallon announced that his “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” would stream early for the firs time (an hour early at 8 p.m.) on Peacock each night.

The platform will also figure prominently at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, featuring live coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies before they air on NBC in primetime. The service will stream three daily Olympic shows, including “Tokyo Live,” “Tokyo Daily Digest,” and “Tokyo Tonight.” Peacock will also stream Olympic documentaries and specials.

“Nothing brings the world together than the Olympics,” Mike Tirico, primetime host of NBC’s quadrennial coverage, told attendees.

Peacock will be home to live breaking news coverage, including the 2020 presidential election. NBC News Now, the newly launched streaming network, will bring Peacock viewers “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt” as well as original video from “Today” and across the NBC News portfolio.

The longest running show in television history will also be part of the newest streaming platform — with an original offering from “Meet the Press With Chuck Todd” on Peacock each weekday. In addition, NBC News will create original documentaries for Peacock — delving deep into politics, biographies and history. Peacock will also be home to full episodes of “Dateline” — the true crime original.

 

NBC Universal Holding Peacock Investor Event Jan. 16

Comcast subsidiary NBC Universal is set to unveil on Jan. 16 further details about its branded Peacock subscription streaming video service in a special investor event at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Longtime Comcast executive Matthew Strauss and other senior executives are expected to shed additional light on the service the media company heretofore has been tight-lipped about. Indeed, the price points for Peacock (reported to be $9.99 and $4.99 for an ad-supported option) remain officially unknown.

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The SVOD service is a big step for Comcast, which heretofore has eschewed streaming video for traditional pay-TV and on-demand programming. The cable giant in 2016 embraced Netflix and YouTube in efforts to keep Xfinity subscribers in the fold.  In 2018, it added Netflix to Xfinity cable bundles.

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With Apple and Disney launching competing services last year, and WarnerMedia bowing HBO Max in May, the SVOD market has quickly expanded beyond Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, including jumpstarting an ad-supported VOD market.

Comcast has hinted at offering Peacock for free to Xfinity subs, but no official word whether that will indeed be an option.

Comcast Eyeing Ad-Supported VOD

With ViacomCBS staking much of its over-the-top video future on Pluto TV, the ad-supported video-on-demand platform, Comcast reportedly is considering joining the AVOD market that also includes Tubi TV.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources, reports the cable giant is in advanced talks to acquire Xumo TV, the Irvine, Calif.-based service offering more than 140 digital channels of programming across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment. Content partnerships include CBSN, People TV, College Humor, and History, as well as the PGA Tour, among others.

The Xumo app is currently available on Roku and embedded in several smart TVs from Samsung, Panasonic and Vizio — the latter based in Irvine as well.

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Comcast unit NBC Universal is launching SVOD platform — Peacock — in April, 2020. Acquiring Xumo could help the cabler sustain its pay-TV legacy through an ad-based business model in the rapidly evolving digital ecosystem.

Comcast isn’t commenting on the scuttlebutt, but CFO Michael Cavanagh, speaking Dec. 9 at the UBS 46th Annual Global Media and Communications confab in New York, said the company was entertaining the AVOD market in response to a SVOD landscape dominated by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+.

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“We think we’ve got a pretty special opportunity [with AVOD], when you think about the relatively underserved segment of premium content ad-supported,” Cavanagh said. “Our work shows us that consumer demand is there.”

Indeed, since ViacomCBS acquired Pluto earlier this year for $340 million, the company has made the platform centerpiece to its global digital distribution strategy.

“Our focus on an investment in Pluto is evident,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said on the recent fiscal call. “In Q4 alone, Pluto launched 43 new channels and last month, Pluto Latino added 11 new channels given the platform of total 22 channels with over 4,000 hours of Spanish and Portuguese language programming.”

New AVOD roll-outs and improved ad-tech are expected to drive U.S. online video advertising revenue to $27 billion in 2023, according to IHS Markit Technology.

“The AVOD goldrush is here, and it represents a prime opportunity for service providers, new AVOD entrants and content companies,” said senior research analyst Sarah Henschel.

 

Comcast, Starz Ink New Carriage, Content Distribution Deal

Christmas came early for Starz, the Lionsgate-owned pay-TV and over-the-top video distributor.

Comcast Cable and Starz Dec. 23 announced they have entered into a long-term agreement for the continued carriage of the Starz networks on Xfinity TV as well as a new content deal between Lionsgate and NBCUniversal.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We are pleased that we were able to extend the partnership to Peacock and other businesses within Comcast while also ensuring Xfinity customers continue to enjoy great Starz programming,” Dana Strong, president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

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The companies announced that NBCUniversal will license content from Lionsgate for Peacock, its streaming service launching in April 2020. Peacock will have access to hundreds of feature films and shows from the Lionsgate catalog to stream alongside the previously announced slate of original series, TV shows, and films from Universal and other major studios.

NBCUniversal will also license content to Starz to be featured in the U.S. and on its international streaming service, StarzPlay, now available in 49 countries worldwide.

The new pact represents a lifeline of sorts for Starz as Comcast remains one of the premium channel’s largest domestic distributors. Comcast had previously said it would replace Starz with MGM’s Epix platform is no agreement was in place by Dec. 31.

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Under the new agreement, the Starz flagship premium channel, as well as the Starz Encore suite of channels — including Encore, Encore Westerns, Encore Black, and Encore Action — and related video on demand content will continue to be available to Xfinity customers with expanded distribution on the Comcast Flex platform and a path for an orderly transition to an à la carte business.

“We look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with Comcast to deliver great content and great value to our customers,” said Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch. “Our ongoing relationship with Comcast reflects our ability to unlock opportunities across all of our businesses to the benefit of our subscribers.”

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.”

BritBox U.K. Expansion Undermined by Sky Cold Shoulder

BritBox, the British-themed SVOD founded in the United States in 2017, has encountered a significant roadblock expanding service in the U.K.

The joint venture between the BBC and ITV has reportedly been given the distribution cold shoulder by Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky and its 10 million subscribers.

BritBox, with 670,000 subs in the United States, was looking for Sky to help it gain a foothold in a U.K. market already inundated by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, with Disney+ coming in March, 2020.

Amy Jones, a former senior content manager with Amazon Prime Video, was hired in January as managing editor of BritBox to improve content programming.

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Sky, which operates online TV service Now TV, has a direct-access SVOD deal with Netflix.

“We’ll continue to discuss new partnerships with a range of content providers, but we remain disciplined in investing in those new partnerships where they clearly deliver additional value to our customers,” Sky said in a statement.

BritBox is reportedly close to securing distribution deals with Google Chromecast, among others.

“We are looking forward to extending the number of partners we have to enable BritBox to get to more and more homes,” ITV said in a statement.

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NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke Stepping Down in 2020

NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke is reportedly leaving his position in 2020, nine years after assuming the title following Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal from General Electric.

Burke would likely be replaced by Jeff Shell, current chairman of Universal Film and Entertainment, although no official announcements about the executive changes have been made by Comcast.

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The 61-year-old Burke’s departure comes as NBC Universal readies Peacock, a branded subscription video-on-demand platform with an ad-supported component. It marks Comcast’s first standalone foray into over-the-top video distribution after decades of sticking behind cable-based pay-tv.

Indeed, as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, which Comcast co-owned, flourished, Burke insisted digital distribution — notably online TV — was “not all that material to our business.”

“We have deals in place with all of them,” Burke said on a 2017 fiscal 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.”

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On that call, Burke agreed linear pay-TV would continue to be challenged by online, but suggested cable distribution, which features prominently in the company’s quadrennial Olympics, Super Bowl and NBC Network broadcasts, remained lucrative.

“[Broadcast] demand for the last two or three years has been remarkably consistent,” he said at the time. The business is “certainly more challenging, but I like our hand.”

Epix Joining Comcast, Launching Movie Streaming Platform

MGM-owned Epix Dec. 10 revealed is has joined Comcast’s Xfinity TV premium package nationwide. As part of an expanded carriage agreement announced in October, Xfinity TV subscribers have access to Epix’s lineup of movies and original series.

Launched in October 2009 by Lionsgate, Viacom and MGM, Epix is available nationwide through cable, telco, satellite and emerging digital distribution platforms as well as through the Epix Now app, providing more movies than any other network with thousands of titles available for streaming.

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Epix original content includes “Godfather of Harlem,” starring and executive produced by Forest Whitaker; “Pennyworth,” the origin story of Batman’s butler Alfred; “Perpetual Grace, LTD,” starring Sir Ben Kingsley; “Get Shorty,” featuring Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano; spy thriller “Deep State”; and docuseries “NFL: The Grind,” from NFL Films and hosted by Rich Eisen; “PUNK” from John Varvatos and Iggy Pop; as well as upcoming premieres of new series “Belgravia,” from Julian Fellowes; docuseries “Slow Burn,” based on the hit podcast, and “Laurel Canyon”.

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Epix, Dec. 12 will also launch ScreenPix, a suite of library channels offering a curated collection of classic movies, uncut and commercial free. The ScreenPix suite includes ScreenPix; ScreenPix: Action; ScreenPix: Westerns; and ScreenPix: Voices, a channel dedicated to diverse voices. ScreenPix will also be available to Xfinity Digital Preferred subscribers.