NBCUniversal’s decision to abbreviate the box office window to 21 days on many releases — while Universal Pictures tallied the second-highest box office take in 2022 — remains an ongoing strategy, according to Comcast CFO Jason Armstrong.
The company is expediting release of titles to digital in the premium digital rental and sales window as well as to Peacock paid streaming subscribers.
Universal Pictures’ 2022 box office tally was driven by Jurassic World Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Nope, The Bad Guys, The Black Phone, Halloween Ends, Violent Night, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Sing 2, among other titles.
Speaking Feb. 27 at the 31st Annual Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom confab in Palm Beach, Fla., Armstrong said early access to Universal movies on Peacock helped grow the platform’s paid subscriber base by 5 million in the most-recent fiscal quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2022), which translated to 11 million new subs for the year for a total of 20 million.
Average monthly Peacock user engagement now stands at around 20 hours.
“Content success and availability has largely driven that,” Armstrong said, adding that legacy Pay 1 movie distribution windows to third parties, live access to World Cup soccer and the NFL, licensed Hulu content, and next-day access to Bravo shows have all transitioned to Peacock.
The CFO said early viewer response to Peacock original shows “Poker Face” and “The Traitors” has been encouraging as well.
“That’s all beneficial to streaming,” Armstrong said, adding that all episodic programming, in addition to live sports, is now jointly licensed for concurrent linear TV and streaming distribution.
The executive said that while linear TV subscriptions and advertising revenue is declining, the business remains highly profitable.
“We have to preserve the cashflow characteristics of [linear TV], but doing so with an eye towards making sure we’re migrating to streaming for the right continuum,” Armstrong said.
At the same time, NBCUniversal’s heavy emphasis on streaming has skyrocketed related opportunity and technology costs in the direct-to-consumer business segment, resulting in a projected $3 billion operating loss in 2023.
“We said this year would be the peak loss year and we look to rebound after 2023,” Armstrong said. “The trajectory beyond this is more favorable.”
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Peacock recently disclosed it would no longer accept new free ad-supported subscribers, in a move that will eventually force existing Xfinity pay-TV subscribers to pay for SVOD access.
“We think there is a big market for [less-expensive] paid AVOD subscription service,” Armstrong said. “When we were leaning into streaming, we were early to figure out that was going to be a super interesting large market segment to target. The good news is that linear plus streaming is a growth business. That’s true for us [and] that’s true for the industry.”