Comcast is poised to deliver a record quarter of broadband subscriber gains as the media giant slowly pulls out of the economic trench caused by the pandemic.
Brian Roberts, chairman-CEO of Comcast, said the cable giant is preparing to report net broadband adds for the third quarter of more than 500,000, a record for the company.
During a Q&A held Tuesday morning as part of Goldman Sachs’ annual Communacopia media and telecom conference, Roberts said that the fledgling Peacock streaming platform has reached 15 million signups, up from the 10 million disclosed at the end of July for the service that launched in beta form in April. Comcast reports its third quarter earnings at the end of October.
Roberts addressed NBCUniversal’s recent restructuring of its TV operations, nothing that Mark Lazarus, chairman of television and streaming for NBCUniversal, and NBCU chief executive Jeff Shell have streamlined the operations and taken “tremendous amount of costs out of the TV business,” referring to the wave of pinkslips that have hit the company in recent weeks.
Roberts hinted at NBCU’s effort to hire exiting Warner Bros. TV executive Susan Rovner as head of programming for NBC and other NBCU cable networks. The streamlining of business operations under Frances Berwick and studio operations under Pearlena Igbokwe was designed to give the company “better focus” in developing content that can travel across multiple NBCU properties.
The new mindset is for NBCU to “create content that resonates and then determine the best way to distribute it,” he said. That’s a sea change from the network-by-network development approach of old. “That gets us a focus on better decision-making,” he said.
Roberts emphasized the importance of the company’s position as one of the world’s biggest broadband providers, calling high-speed internet service “the heart and soul of the company.”
“Broadband in general is a fantastic business for us and will have great growth in the years ahead,” Roberts said. For the year, Comcast is on track to “greatly exceed” 2019’s benchmark of 1.4 million net broadband adds.
Comcast’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are also heading in the right direction in the current quarter after taking a hit in Q2. NBCUniversal’s TV and film businesses are starting to “ramp back up.” He’s also happy to see two of NBCU’s three theme parks reopen (Universal Studios Hollywood remains closed.)
Roberts sought to offer a macro view of Comcast as a company focused on three pillars of business: broadband, aggregation and streaming.
The aggregation component is defined as traditional cable TV service or the “sea of apps and streaming” enabled by Comcast’s broadband and its cutting-edge operating platforms that serve as gateways to consumers even for rival services such as Netflix. Comcast’s intense focus on streaming indicates that Roberts sees linear TV migrating to on-demand platforms.
As for Peacock usage, Roberts said the app is the No. 2 or No. 3 app behind Netflix and YouTube in homes that have Comcast’s Flex low-cost broadband bundle and among its high-end customers using traditional cable service on the X1 platform. Nonetheless, NBCU is not going to divert all of its top content to the ad-supported streamer. “Peacock in our opinion is part of the eco-system — a big part — but not the only part,” Roberts said.
Roberts said that NBCU’s TV operations are generally on the rebound, thanks to the return of live sports and the slow resumption of production. The film side of NBCUniversal is probably looking at another year or two before “normalization” returns.