Discovery and Comcast April 8 announced the launch of Discovery+ on Xfinity Flex, providing Xfinity high-speed Internet-only subscribers direct access access to the non-fiction, real-life entertainment streaming service. Discovery+ will also begin rollout to cloud-based X1 streaming devices in the coming weeks.
Xfinity Flex is a 4K streaming device included with Xfinity Internet that extends features of X1 to consumers who only subscribe to Comcast’s broadband service. The platform features an integrated guide to all of their favorite streaming video and music apps, as well as a TV interface to manage their Xfinity Wi-Fi, mobile, security and automation services.
“The launch of Discovery+ on Xfinity Flex, and very soon on X1, gives our customers access to more of the best entertainment from one of the newest streaming services on the market,” Rebecca Heap, SVP of video and entertainment for Comcast Cable, said in a statement.
Discovery+ ($4.99 monthly; $6.99 without ads) offers more than 55,000 episodes of current and classic shows from HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and the forthcoming Magnolia Network, as well as more than 50 original titles and hundreds of hours of exclusive content. The service also offers reality-based content from A&E, History and Lifetime, as well as the definitive offering of nature and environmental programming, headlined by natural history from the BBC.
Flex today and X1 will also have direct-to-consumer apps, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend. Food Network Kitchen is a subscription-based service that gives customers access to thousands of recipes and instructional videos; live and on-demand cooking classes with culinary experts and fan-favorite personalities; and inspiration for quick and easy meals. The MotorTrend app provides Comcast subs with thousands of hours of automotive entertainment.
Disney+ and ESPN+ are launching on Xfinity, giving X1 and Flex customers access to the Disney+ library of movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic, along with thousands of live sports events and original programming from ESPN+.
Additionally, ESPN+ is now available to Flex customers via the ESPN app, with plans to launch on X1 in the coming weeks.
X1 and Flex customers can access Disney+ or ESPN+ by saying “Disney+” or “ESPN+” into the Xfinity Voice Remote or by saying the name of a desired title from one of the streaming services. Xfinity customers will also be able to find the Disney+ and ESPN+ content libraries integrated throughout their user experience, including in collections such as “TV,” Movies,” “Sports” and more.
“With the launch of Disney+ and ESPN+, our X1 and Flex customers will now be able to enjoy all the best entertainment from today’s most popular streaming services on one device that makes it easy for them to find their favorite programming, or discover something new,” Rebecca Heap, SVP of video and entertainment for Comcast Cable, said in a statement.
“The launch of Disney+ and ESPN+ on Comcast’s Xfinity platforms comes at an opportune time with the new Disney+ Original series from Marvel Studios ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ in full swing, the return of coach Gordon Bombay in a new series ‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers,’ and ‘Secrets of the Whales’ from National Geographic premiering on Earth Day. It will be a big April on ESPN+ too with UFC 261, the start of MLB and MLS seasons, The Masters and more,” Michael Paull, president of Disney+ and ESPN+, said in a statement.
Xfinity delivers entertainment to customers via its X1 and Flex devices and through its leading Xfinity Internet service. Xfinity Flex is a 4K streaming device included with Xfinity Internet that extends the features of X1 to customers who prefer a streaming experience, as well as the ability to manage Xfinity WiFi, mobile, security and automation services — all controllable with the Xfinity Voice Remote.
When Comcast launched the Xfinity Flex streaming media device in 2019, the strategy was to market an in-house product for broadband-only customers that could compete against Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV as a conduit for over-the-top video distribution.
Last year as NBCUniversal rolled out the Peacock hybrid subscription streaming, ad-supported video platform, negotiation issues kept the service off both Roku and Fire TV at launch. While availability of the Peacock app on Roku has been resolved, many of the platform’s 33 million sign-ups occurred due to Flex, according to CFO Mike Cavanagh.
Speaking March 10 on the virtual Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference, Cavanagh said 3 million Flex devices have been licensed to Xfinity subs. Plans call to add additional services onto the device, including third-party apps.
“Video is changing from what it once was, and we’re moving to a streaming world for television” Cavanagh said. “Our broadband pipe is the best product to consume video.”
Comcast added 1.94 million high-speed Internet subscribers in 2020 to end the year with 28.3 million subs — making the erstwhile cable TV company the largest single ISP in the country.
“Not everyone, as we know given all the forces in the media market place, want to have the traditional cable bundle,” Cavanagh said, admitting Comcast for years fought that consumer sentiment.
Indeed, the cabler in 2017 embraced the new world order in dramatic fashion when CEO Brian Roberts publicly embraced longtime nemesis Netflix, affording the SVOD behemoth direct access to Xfinity subscribers.
“We clearly embraced where the world’s going,” Cavanagh said, adding that the Flex device enabled the company to enhance the existing cloud-based Xfinity set-top box for the streaming-centric consumer. More importantly, Flex was launched to reduce churn 15% to 20% among broadband-only subs versus a broadband customer without the device.
“Many people were worried we’d chase holding onto a video bundle even if it went upside down on us economically,” he said. “We are very eager to continue to super-serve the [pay-TV] segment of the market that values the full bundle … but if it’s not what you’re interested in, Flex gives us the same ability to get the same churn reduction benefit.”
Cavanagh said Flex ultimately becomes another platform providing video entertainment choices to subscribers.
“That can’t be a bad thing [as] 70% of Internet activity use is video entertainment consumption,” he said.
With 57 million people spending more than $100 monthly on Comcast products and services worldwide, CEO Brian Roberts says the company is uniquely positioned to deal with ongoing industry challenges presented by the pandemic. Speaking March 3 on the virtual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, Roberts said NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock was the second-fastest growing brand in 2020 behind Zoom, the online video conference platform.
“Think about how fast your world can change in a short order,” Roberts said. He said Peacock was a “spreadsheet plan that had to go into reality” during a pandemic. The platform ended 2020 with more than 33 million sign-ups.
“During this year, one of my goals is to step back and comeback with, ‘okay, we had this start [with Peacock], what are we going to do about it?'” Roberts said.
“Peacock has definitely benefited from being part of Sky [in the U.K.] and Comcast Cable,” he said, adding the service hopes to get back programming that currently streams on Hulu, the SVOD service Comcast holds a 33% minority stake in.
“Hulu has been a tremendous company,” Roberts said. “We have an exit opportunity in a couple of years, and that is creating real value for Comcast shareholders. The opportunity to get a lot of cash for Hulu is coming our way.”
Indeed, Wall Street analyst Richard Greenfield contends Comcast’s stake in Hulu is worth about $15 billion, while current programming oddities between Disney and Comcast find episodes of “Modern Family” streaming on both Peacock and Hulu.
“We control the flexibility and timing of when to bring that back on a non-exclusive and exclusive basis,” Roberts said.
He said Comcast continues to analyze streaming video in regards to third-party acquisitions, consumer trends for how the media giant positions itself competitively.
“Is it a winner-take-all [scenario], or is it, ‘you need to be relevant and have content your customers want and they find you?'” Roberts said.
He said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, has done a great job re-imagining the whole company, including movie distribution. Roberts contends the hybrid theatrical/PVOD business model is here to stay, especially for a company that has installed tens of millions of set-top boxes in consumer homes.
“I think we’re set up for success … and I’m excited for NBCUniversal,” he said.
When asked about the status of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Roberts said the world could use the emotion and spectacle the Games offer.
“It’s not my decision, but I think it’s ‘not if, but how’ [the event is run] and I’m very hopeful in my conversations with [Games] leadership that there is an excitement [surrounding the event],” he said. “This is the perfect moment for the world to come together.”
Meanwhile, with broadband a prerequisite in the deployment of over-the-top video, Comcast added 2 million high-speed Internet subscribers in the past year — much of it driven by the proliferation of streaming services, including Comcast’s broadband-only Flex streaming video platform, which just crossed three million set-top boxes.
Comcast will roll out several new features and announcements for the streaming platform later this year, according to Roberts.
“Flex is the new television,” he said, adding that the service has produced a 15%-20% reduction in pay-TV subscriber churn. “It’s a new opportunity in R&D. I think we have the best aggregation tools in the country.”
Separately, Roberts said Universal is set to resume construction of Epic Universe theme park in Florida, while construction continues on Nintendo Park in Osaka, Japan — intellectual property Comcast plans to import to amusement parks in California and Florida.
“Our parks business was virtually shut down last year, so we have no where to go but up,” he said.
Comcast has acquired a 9.3% minority stake in fubo TV, the online TV subscription service featuring live sports and soon gambling. The corporate parent to NBCUniversal and Peacock and Xumo streaming services disclosed the stake in a Feb. 12 fiscal filing. Other media company co-owners include Disney and ViacomCBS.
Fubo TV, which launched an IPO last year, has been on a rollercoaster for investors as its stock fluctuates wildly (up 275%) on market speculation. Driving the interest is sports wagering. Fubo, like Disney, Fox and others, is looking to appeal to more than live-sports streamers through legalized gambling.
Fubo entered 2021 with about 545,000 subscribers paying from $65 monthly for access to more than 100 channels, including 40 sports-themed. The six-year-old service last year acquired Balto Sports, a backend developer of fantasy sports gaming software. Last month, fubo expanded to sports gambling by acquiring Vigtory, an interactive sports gaming company.
The moves don’t excite Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Lightshed Partners, who contends Fubo is just another online TV service struggling to compete in a market led by Hulu+Live TV, AT&T TV and Dish-owned Sling TV. Hulu has about 4 million subs, while industry pioneer Sling has slightly more than half that.
Online TV launched in 2015 as way for pay-TV operators to compete against Netflix and the rising tide of over-the-top video distributors. Despite initial success, Sling has struggled to retain subscribers. Sony shuttered PlayStation Vue, while AT&T rebooted DirecTV Now with AT&T TV.
“Fubo TV is not Netflix, Fubo is not Flutter/FanDuel, DraftKings nor even Penn/Barstool Sports, Fubo is not Roku and Fubo is not Trade Desk,” Greenfield, Brandon Ross and Mark Kelley wrote in a December post. “Fubo is simply just another virtual multichannel video programming distributor facing the same obstacles and financial challenges as every other [online TV platform].”
On New Year’s Day, NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service acquired away from Netflix exclusive streaming rights to reruns of “The Office,” in a license deal reportedly worth $500 million. Episodes of the ensemble-cast sitcom, which last broadcast in primetime on NBC in 2013, have regularly ranked among Nielsen’s weekly Top 10 streamed content on the television. Indeed, “The Office” was by far the top TV show in minutes watched in 2020, according to Nielsen.
That acquisition appears to be paying off for Peacock. Speaking on the Jan. 28 fiscal call, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said the right things about the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company series, which co-starred Steve Carell and John Krasinski, among others.
“We’ve had it now for almost a month, very pleased with how it’s doing,” Shell said. “Our usage among our customers are actually higher than we think the usage was among Netflix customers.”
With Peacock marketed as a hybrid SVOD/AVOD service, with an emphasis on ad-supported video, NBCUniversal is using the initial season of “The Office” and other high-profile content as a loss-leader for Peacock’s free option, with access to subsequent seasons on Peacock’s two paid tiers ($4.99 with ads; $9.99 without).
“We’re seeing that people who are watching ‘The Office’ on Peacock are watching lots of other comedies,” Shell said. “So it’s really driving usage of ‘Parks & Recreation,’ and really driving ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ among others.”
NBCUniversal employed the strategy acquiring streaming rights to England’s Premier League soccer, which Shell said has driven viewership of Western drama “Yellowstone.” He said the recent license deal involving the WWE Network streaming service would help generate viewership for WWE events on USA Network, among other content.
“We believe, there’s kind of an ecosystem here, like the whole world of broadcast where … we can cross promote people into different things,” Shell said. “And that certainly seems to be working and ‘The Office’ has really helped.”
While Disney maintains operational and majority control of Hulu, Comcast quietly owns 33% in the subscription streaming video service, with the right to cash out in 2024.
But that scenario isn’t sitting well with veteran analyst Richard Greenfield with Lightshed Partners. Greenfield contends Comcast should cash out now due to the ongoing global move toward over-the-top video distribution — underscored by Comcast’s own streaming ventures Peacock and broadband-based Flex.
Disney continues to focus its resources on Disney+, including expanding international distribution, most-notably in India under the Hotstar brand — the latter responsible for 33% of the 86.8 million Disney+ subscribers. Hulu touted 38.8 million subs at the beginning of last December.
Greenfield values Hulu currently around $45 billion, which would translate to $15 billion for Comcast’s stake. The media giant’s existing deal calls for a floor-based minimum value of $27.5 billion for Hulu, or $9 billion for Comcast.
“The Hulu joint venture appears to have outlived its usefulness, with Comcast and Disney both increasingly focused on their own direct-to-consumer platforms,” Greenfield co-wrote in a Jan. 28 post. “Waiting until 2024 to resolve ownership would appear to create an unwanted/unnecessary financial overhang on Disney given how fast the valuation of streaming assets are growing.”
Maybe, but neither company appears to be in a hurry to move on Hulu. Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter suggests Disney may eventually fold Hulu into Disney+ as a subset content offering as it has with FX.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made no mention of Hulu on the Jan. 28 fiscal call. When last discussed publicly in April 2019, Roberts said Hulu remained a key asset.
“On Hulu, the relationship with NBC, it’s very much in everybody’s interest to maintain,” Roberts said at the time. “And we have no new news on it, other than it’s really valuable. And we’re really glad we own a large piece of it.”
Comcast, parent of longtime Olympics broadcaster NBCUniversal, contends the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics will go on as scheduled, a hopeful Brian Roberts, chairman/CEO, said on the Jan. 28 fiscal call.
“Sitting here today, I believe there will be an Olympics,” Roberts said. “I hope there will be an Olympics. And I think that’s our best intelligence, at this time. And we’re excited about that.”
While the quadrennial sporting spectacle might not have an Olympic stadium filled with spectators, Roberts said the Games could be carried out the way other professional sports leagues have continued their seasons during the pandemic playing in front of empty stadiums.
“That will be up to the host country [Japan] and the host committee,” Roberts said. “We’re very hopeful and believe that they’ll find a way to safely and successfully have the Olympics.”
China’s capital of Beijing is slated to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, also exclusively broadcast in the U.S. by NBC.
The Tokyo Games, previously slated for last July, were to have been a huge promotional plug for NBCUniversal’s just-launched Peacock streaming platform. NBCUniversal has fiscal insurance policies in place should the Games be canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
In recent years, the Olympics has largely become a nationwide televised marketing event for American viewers showcasing Team USA, patriotism and individual achievement — against the backdrop of endless ads. That could continue during the pandemic with a healing effect, according to Roberts.
“For us, [the Olympics] is a television event and would be an amazing moment for the world to come back together post-what we’ve all globally been through [with the pandemic], which is so unprecedented,” Roberts said. “So we’re super hopeful and optimistic.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.