NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Sees Advertising “Choppiness”, But Calls Rising Streaming Competition A “Validation” Of Peacock’s Model

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell sees considerable “choppiness” in the advertising business, but believes the increase in competition in ad-supported streaming is a “validation” of the model chosen for Peacock, the company’s 2-year old streaming service.

While he didn’t mention Netflix or Disney+ by name, both have announced their high-profile entry into ad-supported streaming, but Shell doesn’t see “any material impact” on Peacocks from increased competition.

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The exec delivered the comments during parent Comcast’s second-quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts. The media giant edged analysts’ estimates for the quarter, but reported stagnation in its broadband business and at Peacock, which remains at 13 million paid subscribers and 27 million monthly active accounts. That result by the June 30 end of the quarter was roughly flat with the tally as of March 31, with the sideways movement attributed to comparisons with the prior quarter, when the Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl and the premiere of original drama Bel-Air drove the addition of 4 million paying subscribers.

The advertising market “continues to be choppy,” the CEO said. “It’s really segment by segment, though. Some segments are doing better, some are doing worse. We just finished the upfront … and the upfront was way better than we expected. So, there’s definitely some choppiness but nothing that traumatic.”

While NBCU’s ad revenue dipped 1% compared with the year-ago quarter, Shell noted that without NHL hockey included in the 2021 period (the company has since parted ways with pro hockey), ad revenue was up by low-single-digits — “which is better than some of the companies that have reported so far.” Categories like automotive are down due to inventory issues, while pharmaceuticals has surged with federal approval of several drugs, Shell noted.

“On Peacock, we think we picked the right business strategy, which is kind of an extension of our existing business, based on dual revenue streams of subscriptions and advertising,” he said. While he didn’t specifically name-check Netflix or Disney+, both are due to add cheaper, ad-supported tiers in the coming months, joining Paramount, Fox and other media companies as well as tech players like Roku and Amazon. “I think everybody kind of moving in that direction is a validation of that business model,” Shell continued. “And as far as advertising in general, both linear and Peacock, we’re one of the largest advertisers out there, with over $10 billion of advertising, so people coming in at the levels they’re coming in, we don’t expect it to have any material impact on what we sell and how we do it. If anything, our scale gives us an increasing advantage.”

Shell again didn’t name names, but he stressed Peacock’s advantages in the political ad arena, which is about to swell with mid-term messages. Hulu in recent days got embroiled in controversy after it rejected — and then later accepted — Democratic ads mentioning issues like abortion and guns.

“We expect a pretty strong season coming up,” Shell said when asked about political ad spending. “We’re uniquely positioned now with Peacock to take advantage of whatever a candidate wants to advertise and where. So, we expect some pretty strong results from Peacock in the fall as well as across the whole company.”

CFO Mike Cavanagh fielded an analyst question about the possibility of cutbacks given the range of macroeconomic challenges looming. He pointed to “strength” in the company’s balance sheet and cash flow and said it would enable Comcast to continue to invest in future growth. “We won’t be cutting muscle,” he said, though he acknowledged that “in tougher times” many companies go about “trimming some fat, but it will be very long-term-minded. … That doesn’t mean there won’t be tactical adjustments and belt-tightening.”

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