NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Laments “Bad Dream” Of 2020 But Praises Peacock, Drops Streaming Stats In Holiday Staff Memo

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EXCLUSIVE: NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell didn’t mince words about the “bad dream” that was 2020, but touted the success of Peacock and laid out a string of streaming stats in a holiday-season memo to employees.

In his December business update (read it below), Shell predicted that in a few years employees would look back and think of the year and the coronavirus pandemic as “as a strange and just plain awful bad dream.” Covid-19 “extremely impacted” every part of NBCU, Shell wrote. (The executive, who succeeded Steve Burke as CEO in January, did not make note of his own tangle with the virus last March when he tested positive before recovering.)

Despite everything, there have been bright spots during the pandemic, Shell maintained. Five of the company’s feature films, including Jurassic World, wrapped production, and cameras rolled again on 31 TV series, along with in-studio late-night shows and Saturday Night Live. And then there was Peacock, which launched on Comcast platforms in April before going national in July — minus the anticipated Tokyo Olympics promotional opportunity.

Shell said with the Olympics now set for next summer, plus The Office shifting in January from Netflix to an exclusive Peacock run, “In some ways, I view 2021 as our real launch.”

In addition to hailing the 26 million sign-ups to date — though still without a breakdown of how many stepped up to Peacock Premium, which is free on Comcast but $5 a month for most others — he rattled off some new viewership stats and insights.

The top driver of premium subscriptions and engagement, Shell revealed, is Premier League soccer, a hallmark of the service’s live sports strategy and a point of differentiation with rival streamers. (Peacock also had some exclusive hours of U.S. Open golf coverage last June and will stream an NFL playoff game in January.)

Universal Television’s Saved by the Bell is the No. 1 Peacock original, with three out of 10 new users of the service making it the first thing they watch. Current NBC and NBCU cable shows routinely top the Peacock Premium charts when they are made available the day after their linear premieres, Shell noted. And viewing of key library title Parks & Recreation quadrupled after becoming exclusive to Peacock in October, a good sign for The Office.

More than half of users have sampled the dozens of always-on linear channels, some of which come from beyond the NBCU fold in a Roku Channel-esque feature designed to make Peacock more sticky.

The No. 1 film title of 2020 is DreamWorks sequel Trolls World Tour, which was a canary in the coronavirus coalmine, skipping a planned theatrical run and being offered as a $20 premium VOD release in March. Shell did not address any of the ensuing turbulence in the industry over theatrical release windows, a debate dominated by WarnerMedia and Disney in recent weeks.

The CEO acknowledged the “painful” layoffs and restructuring that happened this year. But in general he sought to affirm the collaborative work of those who remained. “The way we banded together to succeed in this crisis says it all,” he wrote. “I think there is no better example of our creativity and perseverance than the launch of Peacock, which could not have happened without contributions from every part of part of NBCU, as well as Comcast and Sky.”

Here is the full memo:

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to the December business update. This will be my last communication to all of you for 2020… a year that in a few years from now we will look back on as a strange and just plain awful bad dream.

On the business side, every division was extremely impacted – we shut down our theme parks and paused production; we moved the vast majority of our remaining operations out of the office, and we endured painful layoffs and cost cutting.

And our personal lives were dramatically altered too. 2020 changed almost everything about our daily routines, while at the same time causing us to focus on, and worry about our own health and safety, in addition to the well-being of our parents, spouses and loved ones. We learned how hard it is to home-school our children; we got used to wearing masks and staying six feet apart; and we spent way too much time on Teams. To put it mildly, I don’t think any of us will be unhappy to turn the page on the calendar on January 1st.

But when I look back on 2020, I will also remember the many silver linings. Extra time spent with loved ones; a chance to work and live at a different pace; and most of all, for me at least, a realization of how incredible the people who work here are.


The way we banded together to succeed in this crisis says it all, from our outstanding news coverage on elections and the pandemic to safely reopening our Orlando and Japan parks. Additionally, we wrapped production on five new films, including Jurassic World and Dear Evan Hansen, and have resumed production on 31 TV shows since September, all with extreme and difficult protocols. Jimmy and Seth continued their shows from home (and attics), and, remarkably, SNL was able to return with brilliant comedy the whole country desperately needed.

We also dramatically restructured our TV business, setting it up to compete in the new streaming world that is fast emerging. And our film group was able to expertly transition our film release strategy to a hybrid PVOD/theatrical model that embraces the new distribution world, but doesn’t leave the old one behind. And our creative machine didn’t miss a beat…we are as strong and vibrant in both our film and TV development groups as we’ve ever been, and I can’t wait to see all of the exciting projects come to fruition.

And while there is much to be proud of, I think there is no better example of our creativity and perseverance than the launch of Peacock, which could not have happened without contributions from every part of part of NBCU, as well as Comcast and Sky.


We were admittedly late to an already crowded market with our streaming service, which makes it is all the more remarkable that Peacock launched with one of the best user experiences and with a depth and breadth of content that has already generated over 26 million signups since the national launch just five short months ago. And it is already clear that our strategy anchored by a free ad-supported product was a smart and unique way to enter the market. Our extraordinary growth is ahead of our internal projections and we see no signs of that slowing down. In fact, last quarter, Peacock earned the distinction of the fastest growing VOD platform in the market.

Additionally, The Morning Consult (a data intelligence company that tracks brand perceptions) just ranked Peacock as the #2 fastest growing brand of 2020.

Each of you should take pride in these accomplishments, as every part of NBCUniversal has leaned in to support Peacock. I truly believe that our collaboration has been a key differentiator in making Peacock stand out from the competition.

Much of Peacock’s success comes from leveraging our company’s strengths. The biggest driver of signups is the content coming from our own TV networks and film studios:

· The Premiere League coverage is the #1 driver of premium subscriptions and engagement.

· Saved by the Bell, produced by Universal Television, has quickly become the most-watched original series, with 3 out of 10 new users watching it first.

· Current NBC shows are consistently among the most-watched episodes on Peacock the day after they air on the NBC broadcast network, which then drives significant viewing to previous seasons of those shows. We see the same trends with unscripted content from our cable entertainment network shows.

· Viewing of the NBC classic series Parks & Recreation, also produced by UTV, increased by four times after becoming exclusive to Peacock in October.

· More than half of users have sampled Peacock’s unique channels offering. NBC News NOW has been the most-watched channel since launch and The Choice, Peacock’s exclusive news channel, hit record highs on election day.

· Trolls World Tour from DreamWorks is the #1 film on Peacock. The deep catalog of classics, including many titles from Universal Pictures, continue to resonate with users.

· November was the most-watched month for Telemundo programming on Peacock, up nearly 30% from October.


And we are just getting started. In some ways, I view 2021 as our real launch, with the upcoming summer Olympics and all nine seasons of The Office coming to Peacock exclusively January 1st. We could not be more excited to welcome home this Universal Television-produced series, which is the number one show on SVOD and top amongst the youngest viewers. Peacock will also delight superfans of The Office by featuring new footage and deleted scenes from the hit series. I’m happy to share an early peek at an outtake from Season 3.

I want to thank you for your support and dedication this year. Obviously, this year our businesses will not be having the team holiday parties we typically do, given the state of the world and how many people are in need.

So instead, we have decided to give each of you a $50 gift certificate to GlobalGiving, which you can redeem as a donation to the charity or cause of your choice. Learn more about the gift and how to redeem it here.

As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, most of us will continue to work from home. As soon as that changes, we promise to give you ample notice before you are expected to return to the office. We’re thankful that many of our productions and business operations have already returned and are looking forward to getting more employees back into our facilities as soon as the vaccine becomes widely available. I am optimistic that we are not too far from this happening.

I want to wish you very happy and healthy holidays! I hope you take some time off, away from the stress and endless video calls that have characterized this trying year. Thanks for all your hard work during these challenging times, and please join me in looking forward to a great 2021!


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