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Comcast Might Pull Universal Movies from HBO Max, Netflix

Ben Bowman

The streaming cold war may be about to get a lot hotter. Bloomberg reports Comcast may yank its Universal movies from HBO Max and Netflix while keeping all future releases as Peacock streaming exclusives.

Under the current arrangement, HBO Max has the rights to stream Universal Pictures films roughly nine months after they leave theaters. Netflix has a similar deal for Illumination Entertainment movies like “The Secret Life of Pets” and the “Despicable Me” franchises. Both of those deals expire at the end of this year.

If Comcast follows through with the threat, it would be an aggressive punch. Peacock has stumbled out of the gate in part because its launch was supposed to coincide with the since-postponed Tokyo Olympics. Peacock has roughly 33 million accounts, but the original programming library is slim. A recent deal to swallow the WWE Network could provide a boost, although some wrestling fans have been upset with the Peacock interface and the decision to censor some older content.

Investment firm UBS estimates that by the end of 2021, the average U.S. home will subscribe to three streaming services. And as prices continue to climb, a cost-conscious audience will be forced to choose (or churn) subscriptions. So who wins in that scenario? If you’re going for exclusive content, Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max win that battle. If Comcast pulls the trigger, it might make a small dent against their current streaming partners/competitors, but would Universal exclusives alone be enough to bolster an entire streaming service? How many “Jurassic World” or “Fast and Furious” movies can one person watch?

Bloomberg reports some NBCUniversal executives have also discussed a hybrid model where Peacock shares rights with another service. That’s the current arrangement for shows like “Modern Family,” available on Peacock and Hulu.

In any case, younger streamers like Peacock and Paramount+ are miles behind Netflix and Disney when it comes to new, original content already in the works. With production slowed by COVID-19, it’s not like the newer services can flip a switch and release a new movie every weekend. It’s also wildly expensive to produce these shows and films. How long can Peacock afford bleed money before it pulls in enough subscribers to compete with the leaders?

Stay with The Streamable for more updates on this story as they emerge.

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