When the coronavirus pandemic lifts, NBCUniversal expects to aim its movies at two very different groups of audience.
Jeff Shell, the CEO of the large Comcast unit, expects a chunk of consumers to rNBeturn to movie theaters, emboldened, perhaps, by the chance to attend communal events outside their homes once again. But he also believes big entertainment conglomerates such as his need to cater more directly to that portion of the populace that can’t get out to the theater in ready fashion every time a new release pops up.
Theatrical releases remain “a critical part of the movie business,” said Shell, speaking at an investor conference Tuesday organized by UBS. But there will always be a “growing segment that wants to watch movies in a non-premium way,” he added, and “we leave a lot of money on the table” by not finding ways to get movies in front of consumers who may not be as free to get to a movie theater in the first two weeks of a film’s release.
Shell addressed one of the biggest issues to affect the film business in recent memory. As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic keep consumers from going to the movies in traditional fashion, big entertainment companies like NBCU, WarnerMedia and Walt Disney have used their new streaming businesses to make them available, often at a significantly higher price than other offerings. But the moves have raised the hackles of the big theater chains, which rely on exclusive release windows to win ticket sales. The entire debate has flamed higher after WarnerMedia unveiled new plans to put the bulk of its 2021 slate on its new streaming hub, HBO Max.
“We do not as an industry” serve the consumers who can’t get to the movies due to other concerns, Shell said. “Anything that in my opinion collapses windows, I’ve been pretty outspoken” can be valuable to the business. Shells said he believes theater owners will be “fine” over the longer term.
Turning to other areas of business, Shell said the company’s recently-launched Peacock streaming-video hub had seen 26 million “sign-ups” since launch, though he did not specify how many of those customers took premium subscriptions versus the free, ad-supported offerings the outlet offers. He also said NBCUniversal was seeing more ad-sales activity for its planned broadcast of the 2021 Olympics from Tokyo than it had at this point in the sales process for the now-scuttled 2020 event.