Comcast puts NBC Sky World News channel on indefinite hiatus

(Logos: Handout/Graphic: The Desk)

Comcast has halted plans to launch a new global news channel co-branded with its NBC News and Sky satellite properties, according to a source.

Earlier this year, the media conglomerate set a target date of Summer 2020 for the launch of NBC Sky World News, a news channel that would combine the resources of NBC News and Comcast-owned Sky properties in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

NBC and Sky had ambitious plans for the news channel: Comcast wanted to hire between 100 and 200 new employees for the venture and open as many as 10 news bureaus across the globe to support the channel and its brand.

But the channel has been put on an indefinite hiatus while Comcast, NBC and Sky work through the business ramifications of the global coronavirus health pandemic. NBC News employees were told in April that the company would be re-evaluating plans for the channel on the other side of the crisis, according to a report by trade publication Variety.

Little has changed between April and now, with the economic and health effects of the pandemic ramping up in recent weeks due in large part to a new surge in coronavirus infections. The ongoing crisis meant NBC and Sky were not able to construct studio and production space in London and elsewhere to support the channel and few positions have been filled by new hires and existing employees.

Comcast has also stopped carriage negotiations with foreign cable and satellite providers in several European and Asian countries, a source told The Desk on background. Comcast’s Peacock streaming service in the United States and Sky-branded satellite services in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy were expected to serve as launch partners for the channel.

Comcast customers gained access to a live feed of Sky’s existing news channel in the United Kingdom on Peacock via X1 and Flex devices in April, with a broader rollout when Peacock launched on other platforms in July. Sky News has previously been available in the United States via YouTube, and Comcast expected to replace that feed and others with NBC Sky World News when it launched, according to a source.

Though plans for the new channel have been put on hold, they’ve not been scrapped entirely, and Comcast executives say they will re-evaluate whether or not to launch the channel when the economic effects of the pandemic ease up.

“We had quite a remarkable, arguably state of the art global news service in the planning phases that we all wanted to do,” Andy Lack, a former Comcast executive in charge of NBC News, told Variety in April. “When things become more clear, when we get to the other side of this crisis, we’ll review all these plans.”

Lack, who left the company in May, said Comcast and NBC News remain “committed…to increasing our journalism outside the U.S.”

The coronavirus pandemic has had a ripple effect across Comcast’s existing properties, with commercial ad revenue blamed in part for a 25 percent reduction in revenue this past quarter. Comcast ended the second quarter of 2020 with $6.1 billion in the bank.

The economic fallout triggered both planned and unplanned job losses throughout NBC as Comcast restructured the company to account for the economic fallout. This week, dozens of journalists began receiving layoff notices at NBC-owned local stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Jose and elsewhere. Reports indicate Comcast could eliminate up to 3,500 positions by the time the company is done issuing pink slips.