Charter Cools Q1 Video Sub Losses, Broadband Gains

Charter Communications April 29 reported a first-quarter (ended March 31) loss of 123,000 video subscribers, compared with a decline of 156,000 subs in the first quarter of 2021. The pay-TV operator had 15.7 million residential video customers at the end of the quarter, down from 16 million subs last year.

Charter added 164,000 residential high-speed internet subs compared to 334,000 subs added during the previous-year period. The company ended the quarter with more than 30 million broadband subs — up about 1 million subs from the same period a year ago.

When combined with Comcast, the two pay-TV operators control more than 60 million U.S. broadband households — underscoring their recent partnership to develop new streaming video platforms that could offer consumers cheaper streaming video access to Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, among other third-party services.

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“We remain focused on our primary goal of driving connected customer and mobile broadband relationship growth,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement. “Our new joint venture with Comcast will allow us to provide a next generation streaming platform that offers new and differentiated direct-to-consumer products to meet demand in a fast-changing video environment.”

Comcast Lost 512,000 Q1 Video Subs, Broadband Sub Growth Down 43%

Comcast Cable April 28 reported a first-quarter (ended March 31) net loss of 512,000 pay-TV subscribers, up more than 4% from a net loss of 491,000 video subs in the prior-year period. The cable giant ended the period with 17.6 million video subs, down almost 1.7 million subs from last year.

The sub loss reflects the ongoing consumer transition from pay-TV to alternative channels, including subscription VOD and ad-supported VOD streaming. That said, high-speed internet, a prerequisite to stream video in the home, saw subscriber growth cool for the first time in several quarters.

Comcast said it gained 262,000 broadband subs in the quarter, which was down 43% from a sub gain of 461,000 in the prior-year period. The company ended the period with 32.1 million high-speed internet subs, up from 31 million last year.

The company said the silver lining in the sub growth slowdown underscored the fact that the fiscal period produced the “highest level of customer retention on record for any quarter.”

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Comcast also lost 282,000 telephone subscribers, up from a loss of 106,000 subs in 2021. Total voice subs topped 10.1 million, down from 10.8 million last year.

Video revenue decreased 1.5%, reflecting a decrease in the number of residential video customers, partially offset by an increase in average rates. Voice revenue decreased 9.8%, primarily reflecting a decrease in the number of residential voice customers.

The best thing CEO Brian Roberts could say about the cable business was that Comcast was increasing broadband capacity.

“We are providing our customers with cutting-edge equipment that delivers the best in-home experience,” Roberts said in a statement.

Charter and Comcast Announce Joint Venture to Develop New Streaming Platform

Charter Communications and Comcast April 27 announced that the two companies have formed a 50/50 joint venture to develop and offer a next-generation streaming platform on a variety of branded 4K streaming devices and smart TVs. The joint venture will offer app developers, streamers, retailers, operators, and hardware manufacturers the opportunity to reach customers in major markets across the country with the platform.

Comcast will license Flex, its aggregated streaming platform and hardware to the joint venture, contribute the retail business for XClass TVs and also will contribute Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service it acquired in 2020.  Charter will make an initial contribution of $900 million, funded over multiple years.

The XClass TVs will be available through national retail partners and potentially direct from Comcast and Charter to provide more customer choice. Xumo will continue to operate as a free global streaming service available through the joint venture’s products and third-party devices. Charter will offer the 4K streaming TV devices and voice remotes beginning in 2023. Comcast will continue to offer the Flex streaming platform as a streaming device and service to its customers.

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“These products are all designed to make search and discovery across live, on-demand and streaming video seamless and incredibly simple for consumers,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a statement.  “This partnership uniquely brings together more than a decade of technical innovation, national scale and new opportunities to monetize our combined investment.”

“As the video landscape continues to evolve, this venture will increase retail consumer options, compete at scale with established national platforms, and join our existing lineup of options for the Spectrum TV App available on most customer-owned streaming devices,” added Tom Rutledge, Charter CEO.

The joint venture’s products claim to give consumers a state-of-the-art streaming experience to access their favorite apps, based on Comcast’s Flex product, which currently delivers all the most-watched streaming apps in the marketplace. The products will feature hundreds of free content choices through Xumo, currently delivering more than 200 unique streaming channels. Peacock also will be featured on the joint venture’s streaming platform, alongside other popular apps.

The closing of the joint venture is subject to customary closing conditions. This joint venture does not involve the broadband or cable video businesses of either Comcast or Charter, which will remain independent.

Comcast CEO Roberts: ‘Marry Me,’ ‘Bel-Air’ Most-Streamed Movie, TV Show on Peacock

NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform has two hits to brag about. Romantic comedy Marry Me is the most-watched movie on the streamer concurrently available in theaters, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told an investor group — the executive’s first in-person investor event since the beginning of the pandemic.

Speaking March 7 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, Roberts added that “Bel-Air,” the Will Smith-produced reboot of his former TV series “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” is the most-watched series on Peacock. NBCUniversal heavily promoted the show on Peacock during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Marry Me, co-starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, has generated $21.7 million at the North American box office ($47 million globally) since its Feb. 11 release. The movie will be available through digital retail channels March 13, and on disc March 29.

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Peacock original series “Bel-Air”

Roberts said that over the past two years, the second-most-popular new brand in the country after Zoom has been Peacock. The executive said the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl LVI were the most-streamed sporting events in history.

Roberts contends combining the broadcast content power of NBC with the Universal Studios’ movies for hybrid distribution on the ad-supported/SVOD service is a great strategy going forward. He reiterated that Universal’s new Pay-1 movie distribution deals forgoes HBO, moving directly to Peacock.

“I think we have a great story and great momentum with Peacock,” Roberts said.

In addition to Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Studios has aggressively sought to rejigger the theatrical window following the pandemic, including releasing movies into retail channels as soon as 17 days after their box office debut, depending on ticket sales.

The studio tried a different approach with Halloween Kills and The Boss Baby: Family Business. Both movies were made available on the Peacock platform concurrently with their theatrical release — a strategy Warner Bros. employed in 2021 with the Christmas Day 2020 debut of Wonder Woman 1984 — and ended this year prior to the release of The Batman.

Comcast Bringing Apple TV+ Streaming Service to Xfinity Platform

Comcast and Apple March 7 announced the launch of Apple TV+ across Comcast’s entertainment platforms in the U.S., including Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and XClass TV.

Apple TV+ will be available across all eligible devices in the coming days. Apple TV+ launched on Sky devices (Sky Q and Sky Glass) in the U.K. and Europe in December.

From March 15 through March 21, Apple will offer Xfinity customers a preview of some of its most popular Apple TV+ original series and films with no sign-up or sign-in required. Xfinity subs will have access to the first seasons of many of the platform’s most popular shows, as well as the Apple Original movie Greyhound.

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Additionally, Xfinity customers who are not currently Apple TV+ subscribers are eligible for a three-month free trial when they sign-up via their Xfinity device by April 25.

“With the launch of Apple TV+, our customers now have access to all of today’s most popular streaming services through our aggregated user experience and award-winning voice technology,” Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer at Comcast, said in a statement. “By leveraging our global technology platform, our partners can distribute apps on one tech stack to reach tens of millions of viewers.”

“Apple TV+ offers the highest-quality programming from the finest creators in the world, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is on the big TV in your living room,” added Peter Stern, Apple’s VP of services. “Our work with Comcast lights up that experience for tens of millions of new devices, and we are thrilled that so many Comcast customers have a compelling way to enjoy their new favorite shows on Apple TV+.”

Customers can access Apple TV+ by saying “Apple TV+” into their voice remote or by saying the name of a desired title from the streaming service (like, “Ted Lasso” or “The Morning Show”).

Comcast Providing Live 8K Virtual Reality Coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Comcast and NBCUniversal Feb. 4 announced the launch of the NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app. Available for the first time in 8K resolution, the app (which is limited to pay-TV subscribers with an 8K-compatible TV) will feature more than 150 hours of live and on demand interactive virtual reality coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games, which officially begin today (Feb. 4).

“We strive to create innovative viewing experiences so immersive it rivals being at the Winter Olympics live,” Sophia Ahmad, EVP of Xfinity Consumer Services, said in a statement.

Developed in collaboration with product and technical teams across NBCUniversal and Comcast, the app leverages technical VR innovations from both companies.

“Our 8K virtual reality experience for the Winter Games will offer users a one-of-a-kind viewing experience where they feel as if they’re fully immersed in their favorite sports,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

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VR/8K coverage includes live and on-demand coverage of figure skating, hockey and snowboarding. Select events will offer viewers the option to switch between different cameras to get alternative vantage points.

Coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, where viewers will have an athlete-level view of the event and get to experience the rush of walking for their country as an Olympian.

Features and highlights from 10 additional sports throughout the Games, including alpine skiing, bobsled and speed skating.

Viewers can also host a virtual Olympics watch party and invite up to three friends to join their virtual suite where they can interact together as if they were in the same room. The NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity app is now available to download from the Meta Quest 2 app store.

Comcast: Peacock Ended 2021 With Just 9 Million Paid Subs, $1.7 Billion Loss

NBCUniversal’s subscription/ad-supported streaming platform Peacock ended the fourth quarter and fiscal year (ended Dec. 31, 2021) with 24.5 million monthly average users (MAUs), and just 9 million paid subscribers Comcast disclosed Jan. 27 on the media giant’s fiscal call.

Peacock in 2021 generated an operating loss of $1.7 billion on revenue of $778 million, more than double the operating loss of $663 million on revenue of $118 million in 2020.

Comcast hasn’t disclosed actual numbers for the streaming platform since reporting 54 million signups and 20+ million MAUs in Q2 2021. The streaming service first launched in April 2020, going nationwide later that summer.

By comparison, Netflix ended 2021 with 222 million paid subs, while rivals Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have reported paid sub tallies of 111 million and 175 million, respectively. HBO Max and HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million paid subs. Paramount+ and Showtime Anytime ended the most-recent fiscal period with 42 million combined paid subs.

NBCUniversal is looking to jumpstart consumer interest in Peacock by offering access to the entire 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on the streaming service (subscription only), beginning Feb. 3. Peacock is also streaming select NBC NFL postseason games, in addition to WWE wrestling and European soccer.

Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts didn’t seem too worried (at least publicly) about the subscriber numbers.

“That [sub number] is without much focus on paid subscriber growth,” Roberts said on the call. “We have another seven million highly engaged bundle subscribers from Xfinity and other top distributors who use Peacock every single month and currently receive Peacock Premium and no extra cost.”

Comcast Touts Successful Prototype 10G Modem Test

Comcast said it has tested the industry’s first 10G modem capable of delivering multigigabit speeds into consumer homes. As the nation’s largest internet service provider, Comcast is looking to further market proprietary wireless technology in a rapidly evolving mobile streaming video ecosystem.

In the lab test, a Full Duplex DOCSIS 4.0 system-on-chip (SoC) cable modem built by Broadcom delivered upload and download speeds faster than 4 gigabits per second (Gbps) powered by 10G network technology.

In addition to providing a path to multigigabit upload and download speeds at scale, 10G aims to deliver near-term benefits to customers in the form of increased reliability, performance, and lower latency.

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“The great strength of our smart network design is that we are able to exceed our customers’ demands today, even as we continuously evolve to meet the needs of the future,” Charlie Herrin, president of technology, product, experience at Comcast Cable, said in a statement. “As our 10G journey continues to accelerate, customers will reap the benefits of ever-increasing security, reliability, and speed.”

The announcement is the latest in a series of 10G benchmarks from Comcast. In October 2021, the company announced a successful test of a complete 10G connection using a virtualized cable modem termination system (vCMTS) powered by DOCSIS 4.0 technology. That announcement followed a previous test in April 2021, of the first-ever live lab test of a 10G system-on-chip (SOC) and October 2020, of a trial delivering 1.25 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) upload and download speeds over a live production network using Network Function Virtualization (NFV) combined with the latest DOCSIS technology.

Ampere: Global Content Spend Topped $220 Billion in 2021, Driven by Streaming Video

What a difference a pandemic makes.

Global spending on visual content is projected to top $220 billion in 2021 — up $20 billion from 2020 when industry shutdowns due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus halted productions on movie and TV sets, according to new data from Ampere Analysis.

Leading the spending: streaming video, specifically Netflix, which reportedly spent $13.2 billion this year to lead all platforms. Rivals Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ spent a combined $8 billion on original content.

Overall, Comcast and Disney spent $22.7 billion and $18.6 billion, respectively, on original content this year when including all of their linear TV and theatrical operations.

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“Comcast and Disney invest heavily in sports rights, which — alongside their hefty investments in original content — contributed to their leading positions on the table,” Hannah Walsh, research manager at Ampere, said in a statement. “Sports rights made up of over a third of both Comcast and Disney’s spend in 2021.”

Indeed, Netflix co-CEO/chief content officer Ted Sarandos remains resolute that the streamer would not venture into live sports streaming, including entering bidding rights for sports leagues.

That said, Ampere said SVOD platforms upped their content spend in 2021 by 20% to about $50 billion, which is up more than 50% since 2019.

“In 2022, we expect content investment to exceed $230 billion, primarily driven by subscription streaming services, as the battle in the original content arena intensifies — both in the U.S., but also in the global markets which are increasingly key for growth,” Walsh said.

Comcast Ups European Expansion of U.S. Streaming Services With Apple TV+ Rollout

Comcast continues to do its part marketing third-party U.S. subscription streaming video across Europe, including a competitor to its proprietary Peacock platform, Apple TV+, on Dec. 14.

Since acquiring Sky for $31 billion, Comcast has redoubled the satellite TV operator’s marketing of SVOD services, including most recently Disney+ and Paramount+ (in 2022). In August, Comcast and ViacomCBS ironed out an agreement that will see Sky roll out Paramount+ in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, among other regions.

Media reports suggest ViacomCBS’s ad-supported streaming platform Pluto TV could soon be offered on Sky platforms as well — a move Comcast CEO Brian Roberts doesn’t seem to dissuade.

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“What that might lead us to consider at least would be a partnership where we have unique capabilities that could lead to or enhance our international distribution,” Roberts said on a recent fiscal call.

Roberts’ transition from resolute pay-TV cheerleader to embracing SVOD has been apparent ever since Comcast stopped the presses in 2016 by welcoming Netflix onto its set-top universe. In 2018, Comcast added the Netflix app to its cloud-based Xfinity platform, which also includes YouTube and Hulu — the latter co-owned by Comcast and Disney.

“Netflix is a great partner, and we are excited to offer its services to our customers in new ways that provide them with more choice, value and flexibility,” Sam Schwartz, EVP and chief business development officer at Comcast, said at the time.

In November, Sky announced it would renew free 12-month subscriptions to its VIP members for the third-party discovery+ streaming platform.

“We’re working together with our partners to deliver the best apps and experiences on our platforms,” Roberts said. “And our teams are sharing capabilities and collaborating across the company collectively drawing on our scale and leadership and broadband aggregation and streaming to innovate and profitably serve new and existing customers.”