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Peacock Three Years Ahead of Schedule on Signups, Masks Terrible Year for NBCU

The Office on Peacock
(Image credit: Peaock)

Despite huge disruptions to its original programming plans, which included the scuttling of numerous original shows and the Tokyo Summer Olympics because of the pandemic, Peacock is officially off to a hot start.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell

(Image credit: NBCU)

Comcast said during its Q4/full 2020 earnings call Thursday morning that the AVOD/SVOD hybrid streaming service has amassed 33 million signups, up from a declaration of 26 million made in early December. Comcast and the media division that houses Peacock, NBCUniversal,  had projected that the streaming service would get to 30 million to 35 million users in around 2024.

The happy Peacock news was in direct contrast to the downer year for the broader NBCU portfolio, which saw an 18% revenue decline in Q4 to $7.5 billion. Fourth-quarter sales across cable (-6.4%), broadcast (-12%), filmed entertainment (-8.3%) and theme parks (-62.9%) were all down, as they were for most of the full pandemic year of 2020. 

“We’ve had 10 wonderful years of growth at NBCUniversal, but last year was the exception to that,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, trying to assure media investment analysts that the media unit will return to growth once the pandemic eases. 

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Comcast said that starting in the second quarter, it will combine NBCU reporting for Peacock with NBCU’s broadcast and cable TV sectors. 

“We view our television biz as whole. While our recent restructuring took a lot of cost out of business … the real purpose of it was to allow us to grow in the future,” said NBCU CEO Jeff Shell said. “We’re now looking at subscription and advertising as one business. We’re selling it to advertisers as one platform. We’re programming it as one platform. It’s harder and harder over time to distinguish profitability because we’re  running it as one business.”

As the pandemic has forced NBCU to refocus its Peacock programming strategy on classic reruns like The Office and canned sports—or quasi-sports—like the WWE, Shell said the conglomerate is finding that programming the streaming service has similarities to classic broadcast network methodology. 

Usage of The Office, he said, is probably higher on Peacock than it was on the much larger Netflix, on which the show was a bonafide hit up until it switched platforms on Dec. 31. 

As Peacock users have binged on The Office, Shell explained, they’ve found other comedies on the platform, such as Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine

“We believe there’s kind of an ecosystem here like the world of broadcast,” Shell added. “We can cross-promote things and lead viewers around.”

Shell also described the acquisition of World Wrestling Entertainment rights for Peacock, announced earlier this week, as the “perfect opportunity” for NBCU’s new alignment, noting that the USA Network has been showing WWE programming for years. 

Notably, Shell refers to Peacock as an “AVOD” service. The platform offers a limited iteration free to consumers. Those who pay $4.99 a month get a much broader selection of content, with advertising. Those who pay $9.99 a month don’t have to watch any ads at all.