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NBC Expects to Turn Profit on Tokyo Olympics


The Tokyo Games may have been marred by a yearlong delay, a recent surge in coronavirus cases and the exit of marquee athletes, but the flurry of events and the rise in the medal count for the United States have helped Peacock, Comcast’s fledgling streaming service.

As of this week, the service had 54 million accounts and about 20 million active users, the company said on Thursday. That’s an increase from the end of March, when the company said it had 42 million sign-ups and 14 million active accounts. Comcast also said it will make Peacock available for free to its 20 million customers at Sky, the company’s satellite TV service in Britain and Europe.

Comcast, which owns the rights to the Olympics through its media unit NBCUniversal, debuted Peacock last year to coincide with the event. With the event pushed off a year, the cable giant relied on a smattering of original programming and older shows from the NBC library to attract customers.

It had a weak start, seeing slow growth in subscribers over its first year. In the second quarter of 2021, the service saw a jump in viewership as it took a page from other streaming platforms and released one of Universal Pictures’s big films, “Boss Baby 2,” on Peacock the same day as it was available in theaters.

NBCUniversal plans to show 7,000 hours of Olympics coverage across all its broadcast and cable networks as well as Peacock, which offers a free tier, making it an outlet for cord cutters.

On a conference call on Thursday following Comcast’s second-quarter financial report, Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, said Peacock had changed how the Olympics has been watched and will be a key part of the company’s coverage in future games, including the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year.

“What we will learn in this Olympics we will take to Beijing,” he said.

The company expects the Tokyo Games to be profitable, in part because of the rise in viewership on its streaming platform.

Comcast, largest cable provider in the U.S., now considers itself an internet business as pay television continues to erode. Peacock is an extension of that plan, but it is also a way to recapture the ad revenue lost from the drop in traditional viewers at NBC and its cable networks. Unlike Netflix, Peacock relies on a combination of subscription revenue and advertising. It also sells a higher-cost tier that doesn’t include ads.

For the second quarter, Comcast lost 364,000 cable TV customers, bringing its total to 18 million, and gained 334,000 internet subscribers for a total of 29 million. Its internet business is now its largest, growing 14.3 percent to $5.7 billion in revenye.

Peacock, on the other hand, is the fastest-growing unit, but it loses the most money. For the three months ending in June, Peacock took a pretax loss of $363 million on $122 million in revenue, compared with a $117 million in pretax loss on $6 million in revenue in the same period last year.

For 2021, Comcast expects Peacock to lose $1.3 billion as it spends big on original shows and sports programming.

There was a concern that the Olympics could also be a money loser given the weak ratings of the opening ceremony. About 17 million people tuned in to that broadcast, about a 36 percent drop from the Rio Games. NBCUniversal paid about $12 billion for the rights to televise 10 Olympic Games through 2032.

“We had a little bit of bad luck — there was a drumbeat of negativity,” Mr. Shell said on the earnings call. “But the flip side of that is the digital trends kind of offset that.”


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