AMC Networks Inks Content Deal With NBCUniversal’s Peacock Streaming Service

AMC Networks continues to expand distribution beyond the pay-TV ecosystem. The home to “The Walking Dead,” and “Better Call Saul,” among others, signed a deal for reality-TV programming with Comcast’s pending Peacock streaming video platform.

Under the agreement, Peacock — which launches to Xfinity subs on April 15, nationwide in July — gets series such as “Cold Case Files,” “First 48,” “Storage Wars,” “American Pickers,” “Ancient Aliens,” “Curse of Oak Island,” and “Pawn Stars” in addition to History’s scripted drama “Project Blue Book.”

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“In addition to the strong portfolio of NBCUniversal programming available on Peacock, we continue to aggregate content from other networks and studios, like A&E and HISTORY, that maximizes the breadth and depth of choice for our customers,” Frances Manfredi, president, content acquisition and strategy, Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, said in a statement.

Peacock will launch with an ad-supported option, in addition to a Premium channel free to Comcast and Cox Communications subscriber. The latter will cost $4.99 monthly with ads; $9.99 without to other third-party pay-TV subs.

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“We strongly believe in the power of the A+E Networks’ library of content, and that it will prove to strengthen Peacock’s offerings,” said Steve MacDonald, president, global content licensing and international, A+E Networks.

When it launches, Peacock will have live sports (i.e. 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics) and news from NBC News and Sky News in the United Kingdom, in addition to scripted and non-scripted programming.

The service will also have access to Premier League soccer in the United Kingdom, and Ryder Cup golf.

AMC Networks earlier this week signed a distribution deal with Dish Network and the Sling TV subsidiary.

 

Comcast Acquires AVOD Service Xumo

Comcast Feb. 25 announced the acquisition of Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service based in Irvine, Calif.

Xumo will continue to operate as an independent business inside of Comcast Cable.

Xumo offers free, live and on-demand streaming entertainment, news, sports and more, organized in a channel guide, and features more than 190 genre-grouped channels. Xumo’s multi-screen network of distribution partners include major smart television brands, the Comcast release noted.

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“The talented team at Xumo has created a successful, growing, and best-in-class set of streaming capabilities,” read the release. “We are excited for this team to join Comcast and look forward to supporting them as they continue to innovate and develop their offerings.”

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

 

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.

U.K. Pay-TV Operator BT Moving to Monthly Program Bundles

Taking a page from over-the-top video distribution, U.K. pay-TV operator BT is switching (beginning Feb. 21) from the traditional cable bundle to specific program packages priced on a month-to-month basis.

BT is also licensing Now TV from Comcast-owned Sky, enabling subscribers streaming access to myriad programming, including Netflix. The new range of program packages start at £10 a month ($13), increasing to £60 ($78) for the all-inclusive VIP package.

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The move comes as linear TV distributors continue to lose subscribers to lower-priced OTT video featuring programming without long-term contracts.

“Our new range of TV packs bring together the best premium services, fully loaded with a wide range of award-winning shows, the best live sports in stunning 4K and the latest must-see films — all with the flexibility to change packs every month — with quick and easy search to find what you want to watch,” Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, said in a statement.

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Roku CEO Takes Credit for Disney Reaching 26.5 Million Streaming Subs

Disney said it generated 10 million Disney+ subscribers in the first 24 hours of launching — largely through its app. How it reached 26.5 million subs just six weeks later, well, Roku would like to take some credit for that milestone.

Speaking on a Feb. 13 earnings call, Roku founder/CEO Anthony Wood told analysts that with the company’s signature streaming media device ranked No. 1 (by Parks Associates) in the domestic market, having access to the Disney+ app on its platform help jump start subscriptions.

“One of the things Disney did, is they really lean into the tools that we have available on our platform,” Wood said. “And when companies do that, I mean, we’ve built a lot of great ways to sign up subscribers. So, I think we were an important part of them reaching that milestone.”

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Wood, who contends half of all domestic pay-TV subs will cut the cord by 2024, doesn’t see linear TV distributors such as Comcast entering the over-the-top video market as a threat.

“We have the Xfinity app on Roku,” he said. “And I have it on my Roku, and that’s what I use to watch TV sometimes. [But] we just don’t see competing with traditional cable distributors, it’s a big part of our [OTT] competitive dynamic.”

Wood said the pending rollout of the Peacock streaming service by NBC Universal would likely give Roku an additional third-party app to market — although no official agreement has been reached.

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Roku monetizes its platform on a revenue-sharing basis for third-party SVOD services and splits ad-revenue for AVOD platforms. The company said it made $23.14 per user in 2019 — up $5.19 per user in 2018.

“We’re an essential partner for any streaming services trying to build a national audience in United States,” he said. “So, I think it would be natural to assume that there will be some sort of [Peacock] deal down the road.”

 

Comcast’s Sky Unveils Largest-Ever Original Content Slate

To better compete against Netflix and Disney+ in the United Kingdom and Europe, Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky has unveiled a slate of 80 original programs — its largest ever.

The content slate includes an increase of 25% from 2019; 40% boost to U.S. content & 10 new commissions, including a collaboration between Sky Studios, HBO, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions for “The Third Day,” dubbed the world’s first immersive TV drama with an innovative live event staged as part of the series.

The slate was unveiled at Sky’s “Up Next” showcase event at the Tate Modern on Feb 12 in London, where the broadcaster shared previews of brand-new shows with talent, including “Friends” con-star David Schwimmer, Nick Mohammed, Maisie Williams, Billie Piper, Dynamo, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan.

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Other Sky content partners include Netflix, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

“2020 is going to be the best year yet for content on Sky — we have new channels like Sky Comedy, Sky Nature and Sky Documentaries launching,” Group CEO Jeremy Darroch said in a statement.

Sky, which Comcast acquired for $39 billion, said it is “committed” to more than double investment in original content by 2024 through Sky Studios, as well as the proposed development of Sky Studios Elstree, a new TV and film studio in North London.

Among new original programming announced are:
The Tail of The Curious Mouse (w/t), a story about Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter; “Bloods,” a paramedic comedy; “Safe Space,” a comedy pilot written by and starring Greg Davies as a demotivated small-time psychotherapist.

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“Intelligence,” the comedy created by and starring Nick Mohammed, alongside David Schwimmer, is confirmed for a second instalment ahead of the first series airing next week.

“Urban Myths,” the International Emmy Award-nominated series returns for a fourth outing with Steve Pemberton, Robbie Coltrane, Kara Tointon and Katherine Ryan.

“Cobra,” the high-stakes political drama, starring Robert Carlyle and Victoria Hamilton returns for a second series after becoming one of Sky One’s most successful drama series in recent years, with a launch audience of 2.2 million.

Already set to air on Sky in 2020: The Third Day (Jude Law, Naomie Harris), I Hate Suzie (Billie Piper), Save Me Too (Lennie James, Suranne Jones, Lesley Manville), Breeders (Martin Freeman, Daisy Haggard), and The Trip to Greece (Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon).

Key acquired shows for 2020 include “The Plot Against America” (starring Winona Ryder), “The Undoing” (starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman), “Run” (written by Vicky Jones and exec produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” (starring Natalie Dormer) and the award-winning “Succession” (starring Brian Cox).

 

Sky, Disney+ Finalizing Direct Access Deal

Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky reportedly is in the final stages securing distribution of Disney’s branded subscription streaming video service, Disney+, which bows in Europe March 24.

The Sunday Telegraph, which cited sources familiar with the situation, reported the deal would be exclusive and similar to Sky’s distribution of Netflix and other third-party services.

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Netflix and Sky partnered in 2018, with the latter offering subscribers two tiers of Netflix service at separate price points.

Such pay-TV deals have been integral to Netflix expanding its subscriber footprints in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The partnerships include more than apps. Pay-TV subs are given access to Netflix programming on Sky’s homepage.

Partnership with Sky could help Disney+ gain a foothold in Europe as it chases its 60 million to 90 million subscriber goal by 2024, while enabling easier SVOD access for pay-TV customers.

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Comcast Expanding Retail Footprint

Comcast Jan. 27 said it plans to open six new Xfinity branded stores in the St. Paul, Minn., area by the end of 2020. The nearly $1.5 million investment will place stores in Coon Rapids, Brooklyn Center, Maple Grove, Blaine, Vadnais Heights and West St. Paul.

The strategy is aimed at connecting customers at the retail level with a cable TV operator that increasingly is focused on branded over-the-top video and high-speed Internet service — including xFi, Xfinity Mobile, Peacock and Flex.

“These stores are designed to give customers an awesome experience,” J.D. Keller, regional SVP of the Comcast Twin Cities Region, said in a statement. “They are all about providing the best possible service to our customers, as well as giving all consumers a chance to explore our Xfinity products and services firsthand and check out our latest technology in an interactive environment.”

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Comcast recently opened the Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Center Xfinity Stores with the remaining locations scheduled to open later in the year.

The stores range in size from 1,800 to 2,200 square feet and will be staffed by technology specialists who can help customers get the most value from their products, including personalization, managing and controlling home WiFi experience with Xfinity xFi, amopng other features.

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Retail customers can also upgrade or swap equipment, ask questions about their Xfinity service or pay a bill. Comcast has built or redesigned more than 400 new stores since 2015.

Comcast CFO: We’re Not ‘Chasing’ Unprofitable Consumers

Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh

Following the disclosure that cable giant Comcast lost 149,000 pay-TV subscribers in the quarter, and 733,000 subs in 2019, with increased sub losses mounting in 2020, CFO Mike Cavanagh went on the offensive on the Jan. 23 fiscal call, dismissing much of the sub losses to so-called unprofitable customers.

It’s a slippery strategy considering ongoing systemic changes how consumers get their home entertainment largely revolve around loss-leader business models (i.e. SVOD) banking on the realization budget-minded consumers in mass quantities will make up for individual fiscal shortfalls.

Cavanagh said video remains a valuable market so long as it relates to Comcast’s burgeoning broadband business. The company added 1.4 million high-speed Internet subscribers in 2019. The executive said broadband centric consumers are coveted to the extent they increase their “lifetime value” to Comcast.

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“We’ve consistently said that there is a segment of the market that either doesn’t value a traditional pay-TV service or isn’t profitable for us to serve,” Cavanagh said on the call. “We’re not chasing [that] segment of the market and we saw fewer new connects with these customers.”

But it is precisely “these customers” that are not just cord-cutters anymore, they’re also traditional pay-TV subs tired of paying more than $100 monthly for channels they never watch.

NBC Universal’s pending Peacock streaming service is aimed in part at departing Xfinity (and third-party) pay-TV subs by offering loss-leader pricing ($5) and ad-supported options.

“I think by the end of this year, you’re going to see the $5 Peacock product be offered for free to a lot of [third-party] cable and satellite customers,” Cavanagh said.

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The CFO said that in addition to Peacock, the company would focus marketing efforts around Xfinity Flex, a broadband-only platform offering access to more than 100 video and music services, including Netflix, HBO, YouTube, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, Pandora and iHeartRadio.

“We are prioritizing Flex as a key initiative in 2020,” he said.

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.