Comcast shared a few data points that echoed other recent research, revealing that TV and streaming are up during the pandemic, and also that daily viewing patterns are blurring. Comcast said that since early March, daily viewership is up over 8 hours per week per household, or 14%, from approximately 57 hours per week per household to 66 hours per week per household.
Distribution of viewership has also changed. Comcast noted that whereas weekends are typically more popular days to watch TV, viewing has shifted to weekdays. In the past couple of weeks Monday viewing has surpassed Saturday viewing.
As stay at home guidelines remain in place, it seems like more and more free TV and video are being made available, spanning the short and long ends of the tail (meaning super-premium through user-generated) - and everything in between. Not only does this create more choices for viewers, which will be welcomed, it also means more competition for subscription video services which were already vulnerable to belt-tightening. And for free TV/video that is ad-supported, it means more inventory and choices for advertisers.
Here’s what’s caught my eye just in the past week:
Yesterday Comcast shared select network data on how significant changes in consumer behavior have been due to virus-driven stay at home guidelines. Comcast said that since March 1st, peak traffic is up 32% overall, and 60% in some geographies. Peak or “primetime” for downstream traffic has shifted from 9pm to 7pm-8pm and peak time for upstream traffic has changed from 9pm to between 8am-6pm (no doubt reflecting the widespread use of two-way videoconferencing apps, which Comcast said is up 212%).
Comcast noted spikes in specific types of video viewing: streaming (up 38%), VOD (up 25%) and gaming downloads (up 50%). Even linear TV appears to be increasing (up 6% or 4 hours per week, to 64 hours per week). No doubt reflecting our stationary lives, Comcast said that LTE mobile data usage was down 10% while WiFi mobile data usage was up 24% since March 1st. Comcast said that its network is “performing well” and that it is running over 700K speed tests most days.
Categories: Broadband ISPs
Now that NBCU has revealed its launch plan, pricing and forecast for the Peacock streaming service, some quick math shows how much Comcast missed out on by not buying out Disney’s stake in Hulu. VideoNuze readers will recall this is what I proposed back in May 2018 (“Why Comcast Should Take Control of Hulu”) when Comcast and Disney battled to take over Fox. With Disney and Comcast each owning around 30% of Hulu at the time, as well as Fox owning around 30% and AT&T 10%, it was clear that whoever ultimately bought Fox would assume majority ownership of Hulu.
At the time I articulated all the reasons why, as part of any deal Comcast might make to step away from Fox, it should negotiate to take control of Hulu. Instead Comcast prioritized Sky (which it ultimately bought for $39 billion) and made a subsequent deal with Disney to sell off its Hulu stake. Disney also acquired AT&T’s approximately 10% stake in Hulu, making it Hulu’s 100% owner. Taken together, the moves make Disney CEO Bob Iger look like a genius, even if Disney was overcoming a late entry into the streaming party.
Comcast could have likely acquired the 70% or so of Hulu it didn’t own for around $13-15 billion, based on the $5.8 billion Disney ended up paying Comcast for its 30% share (Comcast also has an upside based on Hulu’s valuation in 2024) Comcast could have done this in reverse. All of this is assuming Disney would have sold its share to Comcast. My hunch is there was a deal to be had if Comcast had said it wouldn’t bid up Fox’s valuation, in turn saving Disney billions of dollars. All in all, it would have been a very modest deal for a company Comcast’s size.
I think all of my original reasons why Comcast should have acquired Hulu still stand up pretty well a year and a half later. But now some quick math also reveals that acquiring could have generated nearly $6 billion/year for Comcast and NBCU and the springboard it could have become for Peacock, before even factoring in cost savings. I suppose it is worth keeping in mind that had the deal gone the other way, Comcast wouldn’t have received the $5.8 billion for its share in Hulu, but then again Comcast didn’t need the cash, so does that really matter?
In my view there are 5 key things to understand, 3 that relate to subscription revenue and 2 that relate to advertising revenue.
This afternoon at 4pm ET, Comcast will host an Investor Meeting to share details about NBCUniversal’s upcoming Peacock streaming service. It is a session comparable to what Disney and Apple did last year for Disney+ and Apple TV+ respectively (and what AT&T/WarnerMedia will do for HBO Max). So we all get to learn all the official information about Peacock: pricing, availability, content, overall strategy/fit with existing businesses, marketing, etc.
Following the format of other investor days, we will hear from senior NBCU and Peacock executives, and likely someone from Comcast. Matt Strauss, an old friend of mine, who was moved over from Comcast to become Chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises late last year, will no doubt be the maestro of this afternoon’s session. All the dribs and drabs of information that have been shared by the company previously will be reconciled with all of the rumors and speculation that have gurgled up from around the web.
Last Friday afternoon CNBC reported that NBCUniversal is “leaning toward” making the free, ad-supported version of Peacock, its upcoming streaming service, free, with everyone getting unrestricted access. This would be a change from restricting it to Comcast’s cable and broadband subscribers only, as originally intended. The ad-free version would still carry a fee.
Which direction Comcast decides to go will say a lot about whether it sees Peacock’s primary role as helping Comcast grow and defend its core cable/broadband business, or having NBCU become a bona fide competitor in the “streaming wars” developing with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple, etc. How should Peacock’s value be optimized - by restricting access to serve the Comcast’s cable/broadband business, or to be guided by the market and help NBCU build Peacock into a large OTT business?
Yesterday Comcast made a smart move by converting its Xfinity Flex service to free for its broadband-only subscribers, eliminating the $5 per month charge that was in place since its launch this past March.
Colin and I discussed Flex on our podcast back then, and while we both liked its overall value, we found the $5 per month fee to be a head-scratcher. Paying the equivalent of $60 per year for a streaming device with 10K mostly older content titles seemed limiting as other companies were competing aggressively on price and streaming sticks could easily be bought for $30 or less.
I’m pleased to present the 478th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
We lead off this week discussing Roku’s strong Q2 ’19 results, including a 36% increase in player unit sales, which the company said was the highest in the growth in the past nine quarters. The results bucked industry research from Parks that Colin and I were just expressing surprise at on last week's podcast, which said streaming media player sales were leveling off. On top of brisk player sales, Roku continues to dramatically expand its platform revenues, which include ad sales and OS licensing.
Data from Conviva and Pixability this week provides additional evidence of connected TV’s rising viewing share. Finally this week, we explore the dynamics behind a recent Comcast Spotlight report showing TV usage increasing.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 44 seconds)
Comcast and Disney have announced a deal under which Comcast can effectively transition out of its 33% ownership stake in Hulu beginning in January 2024. The exit can occur at either Disney’s or Comcast’s instigation and at an assessed market value of Hulu that won’t be less than $27.5 billion. That means Comcast’s 33% stake could be worth approximately $9.1 billion though that could be reduced to a minimum of $5.8 billion if Comcast doesn’t fund any of Hulu’s capital needs between now and January 2024.
I’m pleased to present the 459th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Comcast’s new Xfinity Flex is a little bit of a lot of things - access to certain SVOD, AVOD and live TV services, integration of certain connected home devices, a VOD library of 10K titles though unlikely anything very recent or super-popular, access to certain music services, though not market leaders Spotify or Apple Music and a grid guide. There’s also a connected TV device and voice remote powered by X1’s software.
Of course there are lots of alternatives for consumers to easily accomplish all of the above by themselves, challenging the value of a service like Flex. But to complicated things further, Comcast hopes to use Flex - which is targeted to broadband-only subscribers in Comcast’s footprint - to create upsell opportunities to Comcast’s multichannel video service and build value/reduce churn among broadband-only’s.
And that’s why, in an era when streaming sticks are being bought by millions of mainstream consumers for $30 or less, Comcast’s decision to charge Flex subscribers $5 per month makes the whole undertaking a head-scratcher.
In today’s podcast Colin and I dig into Flex and the various reasons it is unlikely to have much impact for Comcast. I’ve been writing for a while that Comcast does not seem to have an aggressive response to the massive changes sweeping through the industry. Today’s hyper-competitive, “land grab” video services market favors bold moves and Flex seems too tepid to stand out.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 3 seconds)
Last week Charter, the second-largest U.S. cable TV operator, announced plans to launch “Spectrum TV Essentials,” a $15/month package of 60+ entertainment channels. According to Charter’s press release, Spectrum TV Essentials will be “made available exclusively in Charter’s footprint to Spectrum Internet customers who don’t already subscribe to Spectrum video services.” This means targeting broadband-only subscribers who have either cut the cord or never subscribed. It’s unclear how Charter will handle a prospect looking to downgrade from an existing multichannel TV bundle to Charter’s new skinny bundle (or “virtual pay-TV service,” as these bundles are often called).
Regardless, the way Spectrum TV Essentials is currently constructed/priced it is likely to have relatively narrow appeal and limited long-term value. It can be compared most to Philo TV, another inexpensive entertainment-only service. Charter has agreements with Viacom, Discovery, A&E, AMC and Hallmark to carry their networks, but NOT CBS, Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal or Turner, at least currently. So a ton of popular TV networks/programs will be missing, raising, once again the “Swiss cheese” problem of inexpensive skinny bundles that have too many holes in their programming lineups to have broad appeal. Such is the nature of striving to keep subscriber rates low; many expensive networks must be excluded.
I’m pleased to present the 443rd edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Comcast is on a roll in broadband. In a highly saturated market, Comcast managed to add 334K residential broadband subscribers in Q3 ’18, nearly double the 182K it added a year earlier. On today’s podcast, Colin and I discuss the factors that are driving Comcast’s broadband growth and how the company has fully pivoted to a “connectivity” strategy.
The only wrinkle is that Comcast could be more aggressive in defending its video business. While subscriber losses improved in Q3 ’18 vs. a year ago, the macro trends of skinny bundles, SVOD, cord-cutting, etc. are unremitting. It’s still not clear Comcast has an aggressive response, other than to be an “aggregator of aggregators” via X1 and continually reiterate it doesn’t want to pursue low margin video services (i.e. skinny bundles).
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 52 seconds)
Last Thursday, Comcast reported a loss of 95K residential video subscribers in Q3 ’18, an improvement over the 134K it lost in Q3 ’17. Losing subscribers is never something to be celebrated, but amid the onslaught of skinny bundles, SVOD, cord-cutting, etc. the improvement was noteworthy (and certainly reflected the fact that AT&T slowed its promotion of DirecTV Now in Q3 ’18, which is why it gained just 63K skinny bundle subscribers, down from 323K a year ago).
For Comcast it was a welcome relief from Q2 ’18, in which it lost 140K video subscribers, over 4x the 34K it lost in Q2 ’17. On its Q2 earnings call, Comcast executives acknowledged that skinny bundles were taking their toll, and yet they did not seem to articulate an aggressive response. But Q2 ’18 also saw the addition of 260K residential broadband subscribers, up from 175K adds in Q2’17. Given how highly saturated the residential broadband market now is, this jump seemed surprising, and yet, it was barely explained on the Q2 earning call.
I’m pleased to present the 438th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
On this week’s podcast, Colin and I take up the question I explored on Wednesday, whether Comcast should divest its 30% stake in Hulu to Disney, as CNBC reported it is interested in doing. Colin and I discuss the many benefits Comcast derives from having a front row seat with 3 senior executives on Hulu’s board. On the other hand, there are many reasons why Comcast would be compelled to sell.
Meanwhile, as part of its acquisition of Sky, Comcast will also be inheriting Now TV, the innovative OTT service Sky runs. Colin shares his personal experience with Now TV and some of the specific things Comcast might learn and consider bringing to its U.S. operations. As always, rights are a central issue to surmount.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (20 minutes, 35 seconds)
In the wake of Comcast’s winning $39 billion bid to acquire Sky over the weekend, CNBC has reported that Comcast may be looking to swap its 30% ownership stake in Hulu (plus other consideration TBD), for Disney/Fox’s 39% ownership in Sky (a deal for Comcast to buy that was reported this morning). CNBC said that Comcast sees “only limited value in owning a non-controlling stake in Hulu” given Disney’s 60% share once the Fox deal closes.
This logic is understandable and in addition, divesting the stake would also relieve Comcast of partly funding Hulu’s losses (reportedly almost $1 billion in 2017). On the other side of the coin, Disney would own 90% of Hulu and give up its non-controlling stake in Sky as Comcast takes control of it.
I’m pleased to present the 430th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week Nielsen released its Q1 ’18 Total Audience Report, which led to some media coverage that linear TV still dominates consumer viewing. However, Colin dug into the data and showed that while this is true for older consumers, for younger ones, the exact opposite is occurring: linear TV is becoming less and less relevant. Colin shares his analysis.
On-demand viewing’s importance was underscored yet again this week by Comcast striking a deal to integrate Amazon Prime Video into its X1 experience. The move builds on prior Netflix and YouTube integrations, helping Comcast broaden X1’s value proposition. However, neither of us thinks the move materially addresses aggressive competition from skinny bundles that drove up Comcast’s video subscriber losses in Q2.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 28 seconds)
Comcast will integrate Amazon Prime Video into its X1 platform later this year. Amazon becomes the third major streaming service to be included in X1, following Netflix in 2016 (see here) and YouTube in 2017 (see here). Comcast said it’s the first pay-TV operator to integrate Amazon.
As with the other services, Amazon’s content will become available to X1 users as part of the X1 UI. Comcast is continuing to position X1 as a streamlined gateway to both its own content and also to third-party content. It’s a smart move by Comcast to build more value into the X1, helping justify subscribers spending $10 or more per month to rent the X1 set-top box (although Comcast has recently been emphasizing it sees X1 also as an interface, living on smart TVs and devices, as well).
I’m pleased to present the 429th edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
On today’s podcast, Colin and I discuss Comcast’s Q2 results, which it reported yesterday. While broadband subscriber additions were up to a record 260K, video subscriber loss accelerated to 140K.
Although Comcast management admitted on the earnings call that low-cost skinny bundles are to blame, no strategy was articulated for how Comcast will respond. By positioning itself as a “connectivity” provider that doesn’t have a low-cost OTT/direct-to-consumer alternative, Colin and I believe that Comcast’s 21 million video subscribers are very vulnerable to being picked off by skinny bundles’ aggressive promotional offers (DirecTV Now from AT&T being at the top of the list). If that happens video sub losses will accelerate in coming quarters.
We’re both puzzled by Comcast’s seemingly passive approach to defending its core video business and discuss potential explanations. Broadband’s saturation and the coming deployment of 5G both seem to limit the upside of the connectivity strategy as well. While all of this occurring, Comcast is looking to spend $34 billion or more to expand internationally by acquiring Sky.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (24 minutes, 20 seconds)
Comcast reported its Q2 ’18 results this morning, with the good news being the addition of 260K broadband subscribers, the best Q2 the company has experienced in the past 10 years, along with the improvement of operating margins. The broadband surge was Exhibit A for management to point to on the earnings call as evidence its strategy of being a “connectivity” provider is paying off.
However, Q2 ’18 also saw the loss of 140K video subscribers, the most in a Q2 since 2014. Video sub losses have accelerated from -4K in Q2 ’16 and -34K in Q2 ’17. On the earnings call, management put the blame squarely on virtual MVPDs or “skinny bundles,” adding that they “expect pressure to continue in the video business” as virtual MVPDs ramp up.
Comcast has officially dropped out of the bidding for the 21st Century Fox assets, clearing the path for Disney to move forward. Comcast still plans to pursue Sky in the UK. But by dropping its Fox bid, Comcast has also foregone the opportunity to take control of Hulu (by virtue of combining its 30% stake with Fox’s 30% stake). Presumably now Disney will take control of Hulu.
I believe this is a major missed opportunity for Comcast, leaving the company under-optimized in the fast-changing premium video industry. As we all know, today’s key industry themes include the rise of cord-cutting and consumers’ move to lower cost skinny bundles, the shift to on-demand viewing, with the accompanying growth of ad-free SVOD services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu), the rapid adoption of connected TV and mobile devices for viewing and the nationalization/globalization of video services, among others.