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Comcast Takes Peacock Victory Lap As Execs Talk Epic Universe, Ad Market And Deal Speculation

Comcast execs did some more crowing about Peacock’s landmark AFC Wild Card game this month and said it drove paid signups to the streaming service. They declined to specify how many new customers came aboard but said they’re focused on retaining those — and all — subscribers and scaling up the streamer, which passed $1 billion in revenue and hit 31 million subscribers last quarter.

Losses of $845 million were narrowed, and peaked in 2023, but, in any case, the company isn’t stressing about that or about content spending — a bit of different playbook from other traditional media companies who have been pushing profitability over sub growth for the past year and a half. Comcast is bigger, more diversified and has the strongest balance sheet of the group. It has a massive “connectivity” business with cable, broadband and wireless.

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That’s driven speculation the company will be a buyer as media consolidation is expected to pick up. On a conference call today after earnings, CEO Brian Roberts quashed that before anyone asked, preemptively pronouncing that despite “speculation of what we could do next, I’d like you to hear it from me – we love the company we have.” That’s what he and his No. 2 , President Mike Cavanagh, routinely say when asked about deals.

“We couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished with Peacock in 2023,” said Cavanagh on the call, stressing that Comcast is running the streaming platform and linear networks “as one,” leveraging NBC news, sports and content. The Summer Olympics in Paris are coming up, and Oppenheimer — the leading Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner will hit the streamer in February.

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“We’ve seen record levels of hours streamed” since the Kansas City Chiefs-Miami Dolphins Wild Card game was broadcast almost exclusively on Peacock, Cavanagh said. (Broadcast TV stations in the teams’ local markets carried the game.)

“I am less focused on what standalone Peacock losses are doing than I am about the totality of the media business, which is linear and streaming,” he added.

Roberts called the NFL event “a very proud moment in Internet history.”

The stock nosed higher after the numbers and news of a dividend hike (the 16th in a row) and a big share buyback plan. It’s up close to 5% late morning.

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Not everyone is on board with company’s streaming strategy, however. “Tearing down one’s house for the lumber to build a shed in the backyard is a bad idea,” wrote Craig Moffatt of MoffattNathanson in a note this morning, meaning the company is sacrificing linear TV to boost streaming. That’s the main dilemma facing all owners of new and old media.

Theme parks, as always of late, were a bright spot and Roberts is especially pumped about Epic Universe at Universal Orlando, which is under construction with plans to open by summer of 2025. He called it “completely original” and “the most exciting project I’ve seen since we bought NBCUniversal” and “the first new entire theme park in decades in the U.S.”

“We are so excited, we are taking the board of directors to see the construction, which is something we have never done before.”

On the ad market, the story is mixed. Media ad revenue fell on tough comps from last year when Telemundo had the FIFA World Cup. Excluding that, ad sales were up but with streaming ads outpacing linear. Cavanagh said he was pleased, that some categories seem to have stabilized and that scatter market increases look healthy. That said, the macro environment is still cloudy and the exec said it’s “too early to say if there’s a sustainable rebound going on.”

Dade Hayes contributed to this report.

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