Comcast’s Latest Earnings Report Shows Demise of Pay TV Becoming Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
When large media conglomerates like Comcast issue their quarterly earnings report, they generate far more expansive types of news than streaming-only companies like Netflix or fuboTV. That’s because Comcast offers multiple services, including streaming, internet, movie studios, pay TV, theme parks, and more, meaning that its earnings reports are something of a microcosm of the entertainment industry as a whole.
Recently, those earnings reports have shown the same trend: streaming is gaining momentum, and linear TV is fading fast. Comcast lost 1.9 million pay-TV customers in 2022, raising its total cable losses over 3.5 million in the last two years. Conversely, Comcast’s flagship streaming service Peacock more than doubled its paid subscriber total last year going from 9 million to 20 million in 2022.
Comcast and its subsidiaries like NBCUniversal have long seen the writing on the wall when it comes to the relationship between streaming and pay TV. Speaking at a global technology conference in December, NBCU CEO Jeff Shell made it clear that the streaming side of Comcast’s business is expected to increasingly pick up the slack from the decline of the cable side.
“Long term, really, the answer is to build that part of our business is the other part of our business declines and get the overall hold to a place where it’s growing again,” he said. “And that means getting Peacock to a scale where we’re kind of indifferent between cord-cutting moving higher than we think, then Peacock is going to benefit and linear is going to be more pressured. If cord-cutting slows down at some point, then we’ll see the other thing, but that’s really the goal, looking at the business as a whole. It’s hard for me not to get out of my seat right now and jump up and down about how Peacock is doing.”
That line of thinking has led to NBCU bringing Peacock along more slowly, building up its library of movies and legacy shows like “The Office” before attempting to become a bigger player in the streaming originals market. Now, Peacock is adding more of those types of shows, as well as expanding its sports offerings. The company credited the 2022 FIFA World Cup as a big driver of new sign-ups in 2022, despite the fact that it only offered games in Spanish.
Peacock also offers the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football,” as well as Premier League soccer, Notre Dame Football, golf, horse racing, MLB Sunday Leadoff, WWE, INDYCAR, the 2023 French Open, and more.
Live sports are defecting to streaming from their former linear homes more frequently, and it’s becoming a serious problem for pay-TV providers, particularly those that operate regional sports networks (RSNs). More customers leaving means providers have less money to pay for sports broadcasting rights. When cable and satellite companies lose the rights to broadcast games, fewer viewers have compelling reasons to pay for a subscription, and the downward spiral accelerates.
NBCU is not immune to this issue, as it operates a small network of RSNs in select markets. But it’s hoping to sidestep the problem by shifting those RSNs to streaming, demonstrating again its philosophy of building up content on Peacock while its cable business continues to slip. Other companies like Sinclair Broadcasting Group are spinning their wheels with their RSNs, forced to rely on complex restructuring plans and faint hopes that a sports league might swoop in to partner with them.
Peacock has positioned itself well for the next five years. Although the service is not yet profitable, the company expects to reach peak losses in 2023, before the march toward profitability begins in 2024. Comcast’s cable business is likely to continue declining in that time, but if the company has timed it right, Peacock will be able to keep picking up the slack.
Peacock is a subscription video streaming service from NBCUniversal that includes original shows, blockbuster movies, and classic television series. Peacock is home to “Yellowstone,” and “The Office,” as well as original hits like “Poker Face” and “Bel-Air.” You can also watch live sports including Sunday Night Football, Premier League, and exclusive MLB games. Peacock is also the exclusive home to many WWE events like WrestleMania. Premium Plus subscribers can stream their local NBC feed in all 210 markets.
Peacock includes news, entertainment, sports, late-night, and reality from various NBCU properties including NBC, Bravo, and E!.
Peacock also includes the entire library of Bravo shows and has exclusives like “Below Deck: Down Under.” They also include live and on-demand access to Hallmark channels.
The company has acquired the rights to many classic shows like “Parks and Recreation,” and the entire Dick Wolf library including “Law & Order” and “Chicago Fire.”
The service also features blockbusters and critically-acclaimed films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination and content acquired from Hollywood’s biggest studios.