Comcast CFO Touts ‘Oppenheimer’ on Peacock, Combined “Value” of Entertainment and Sports

Comcast CFO Jason Armstrong touted the momentum of NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock, thanks to the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-nominated Oppenheimer, as well as such series as Ted and The Traitors, and the benefits of having a combined offering of entertainment and sports content during an appearance at an investor conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley TMT Conference in a session that was webcast, he was asked about the recently unveiled sports streaming joint venture of Walt Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox Corp. “We’ve seen a lot of value in having sports and entertainment in one portfolio,” Armstrong responded. “Because as important as sports is, and it’s super important as an acquisition driver, it ends up being about 10 percent of our overall usage … but what are people sticking around for and doing in between sports is between our pay-one original library, and then the library we have around TV. There’s a lot of tonnage there. I think we’ve seen a lot of value in having the two together.”

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The Comcast CFO also reiterated that the company is managing its linear TV and streaming business on a combined basis, signaling that it has hit a “bottom.” “The totality of all this is growing – and this is lost on people every once in a while,” he said. “It’s growing in engagement terms and it’s growing in revenue terms.” The cost side has been the most challenged in the early stages of the transition to streaming. “The transition largely is a cost structure transition,” Armstrong said. “We are scaling our way out on the streaming side while managing the linear-streaming transition holistically.”

Peacock is having key content successes on its streaming platform, the executive also emphasized. “Oppenheimer just launched on Peacock a couple of weeks ago. That’s been incredibly favorable,” he said. “If you look at the Nielsen top 10 streaming shows, we got two out of the top 10 at this point with Ted and Traitors. That’s the first time that’s happened for us.”

Peacock recently reported that it grew its fourth-quarter revenue by 57 percent to surpass $1 billion for a quarter for the first time, while narrowing its loss. The streamer ended 2023 with 31 million paying subscribers. Armstrong had in late January said that “2023 marked the peak in annual losses at Peacock, and for 2024 we expect to show meaningful improvements in losses, versus 2023.” The streamer’s 2023 loss amounted to $2.75 billion.

Asked about NBCUniversal’s studio success in 2023, the Comcast CFO said that during the COVID pandemic the entertainment arm “really leaned in at that point, trusting what was on the other side. And that helped us attract some key creative talent.” He argued that “you saw the fruits of that last year,” including having three out of the top five movies at the global box office. Armstrong then touted the studio’s “incredible creative talents,” calling out various names. “We’re working with Christopher Nolan, I guess you might hear his name a couple of times this [Oscar] weekend, Chris Meledandri. Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Steven Spielberg. It’s a long list, and it’s a talented list.”

Comcast, led by chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, has frequently been mentioned by bankers and Wall Street analysts as a possible player in future industry M&A. But management has signaled it would not easily be pulled into dealmaking. Comcast president Mike Cavanagh emphasized late last year that the “bar is very high” for the company to pursue any deals. “Our job always is to look at things, but all I can say is the bar is really high because I really like the organic hand we have,” he explained. “We don’t need to do anything inorganic acquisition-wise.”

Armstrong on Wednesday reiterated this, touting that Comcast has six growth businesses that it sees worth investing in.

Asked about the Summer Olympics in Paris, the exec predicted it would be “spectacular” for the company and sports fans. “It’s Paris and it’s the Olympics. It’s a pretty darn good formula,” he said. “But importantly for us, we’ve had, to no fault of our own, three straight Olympics that had timezone challenges and the pandemic. … Now we have the next three in Paris, Milan, L.A. It sets up really nicely for us. This is when the world comes back to the Olympics.”

That should also help on the ad front. “We’ve seen a ton of demand on the Olympics,” Armstrong said. “We’re very happy with how it’s shaping up.”

The Comcast CFO also addressed broadband subscriber momentum, given a 2024 decline, and data usage trends. “The average customer is doing more on their network, they’re consuming more year after year, they’re hanging more devices off their network, and the utility of broadband is as strong as it’s ever been and growing in the minds of consumers,” Armstrong said. In terms of engagement trends, “we’re seeing that our average customer is using 700 gigs [gigabytes], but our super-users, which is where the world is going in sort of a five-year timeframe … are up to 2 terabytes per month. So if that’s the way the world is going, that’s terrific.”

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