Comcast is the perfect example of a company in transition. One of the largest pay-TV providers in the country is trying to plan its next moves as users abandon multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in droves in favor of ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) and subscription video. on-demand (SVOD) streaming platforms.
As part of its many media holdings, Comcast owns NBCUniversal and the streaming service Peacock. Peacock has been offered free to customers of Comcast’s Xfinity cable and internet services since the platform launched in 2020, but NBCU CEO Jeff Shell has signaled since the summer that the company plans to change that. Shell reiterated these plans recently at the 2022 UBS Technology, Media and Telecom Conference.
“How do we convert [Xfinity users] to pay subs?” he said “We see it as a total company. We won’t just do it from an NBCUniversal perspective. So the question is, how do we do it and when do we do it in a way that adds value to the whole company, and we’re deep in discussions about that. In the next year or two, we will probably move towards that model.”
Peacock doubled its total paid subscribers in 2022, from 9 million to 18 million users, but the service had a total of 30 million users in the third quarter of 2022, according to Variety, indicating that a very large portion of its total subscriber base is Xfinity customers getting the service free. With Peacock set to lose $2.4 billion to Comcast by 2022, the company is likely thinking of ways to monetize Xfinity Peacock users very soon.
Analysts believe that this change is likely to come sometime in the next 12 months. That will help Comcast and NBCU absorb streaming losses in 2022 more easily, and bring in future revenue for streaming spending. It will also help shape Wall Street, which is no longer interested in simply rewarding streaming services for posting big quarterly subscriber and user gains.
Profitability is the main measure of a streaming service’s success today. This shift in marketing philosophies has led to well-documented, sweeping changes at Warner Bros. Discovery and the streaming services HBO Max and Discovery+. Big streaming losses have already led to the removal of one industry executive (Disney’s Bob Chapek), and the pursuit of increased profitability has led both Netflix and Disney+ to launch ad-supported streaming tiers.
To be sure, not all Comcast internet and cable subscribers who currently get Peacock for free will stick with the service when asked to pay, but Comcast is doing everything it can to soften the grounds for such a change, including offering DIRECTV subscribers can sign up for Peacock now for $2.99 per month. The service is also adding more free ad-supported TV channels (FAST) dedicated to popular shows like “Law and Order” and “The Office” to keep customers subscribed.
Whether these efforts will succeed is not yet clear, but Xfinity users should plan for the future now, because by this time next year, it’s likely they’ll have to pay to access the Peacock content they currently get for free.