Peacock now has 15 million paying subscribers, executive says

Comcast’s direct-to-consumer streaming service Peacock now has 15 million paying subscribers, up from 13 million reported earlier this year.

The growth is attributed in part to a recent decision by Comcast’s entertainment subsidiary NBC Universal to stop licensing prime-time shows and other content to the Walt Disney Company’s Hulu.

Affected shows include “Saturday Night Live,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” “Top Chef” and “Real Housewives.” Starting last month, those shows became exclusive to Peacock.

“So all of our content that’s on NBC, Bravo, our other channels for the first time in the next couple of weeks is coming to Peacock where it used to go to Hulu,” Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBC Universal, told CNBC in an interview.

Comcast owns a 33 percent stake in Hulu, dating back to the streaming service’s foundation as a triple-joint venture between it, Comcast and 21st Century Fox. Each company owned a 30 percent stake in the company, with various minority stakeholders owning a 10 percent stake. Time Warner eventually sold that 10 percent back to the other three media companies, which divided it amongst themselves.

Disney acquired Fox’s 33 percent stake through its purchase of certain assets several years ago. The company has expressed an interest in acquiring Comcast’s remaining 33 percent share, which it can do as soon as 2024.

Shell said all indications point to Disney going through with its purchase of Comcast’s remaining stake in the company. The purchase price will largely rest on Hulu’s valuation, which could dip slightly now that NBC shows are no longer offered on the service.

Still, Hulu’s subscriber growth remains strong: Disney recently reported more than 42 million customers were paying for Hulu, up from just over 41 million customers in the previous quarter.

The increase suggests that Disney’s loss of NBC content wasn’t necessarily Peacock’s gain, and that some households may be subscribing to both services.

At the same time, Comcast has elevated Peacock’s brand awareness with a deep discount on the premium version of the service: Last month, Comcast began offering Peacock Premium for just $2 a month, a price that is locked in for a year, down from its normal subscription price of $5 a month.

The timing of the promotion coincided with the start of the National Football League’s (NFL) regular season. NBC owns the rights to the NFL’s inaugural Thursday Night Football kick-off event, as well as Sunday Night Football and Thanksgiving night games. All games are available to stream on Peacock Premium without extra fees.

Still, Peacock lags far behind some of its closest competitors, including Discovery Plus (around 24 million subscribers), HBO Max (around 76.8 million subscribers, which includes traditional HBO customers), Disney Plus (around 45 million domestic subscribers) and Hulu.

Some analysts say a big reason why Peacock is lagging behind its peers is because the streaming service has yet to generate an original, exclusive hit. Shows like “Brave New World,” “Intelligence” and “Cleopatra in Space” were hyped in the weeks leading up to Peacock’s launch, but none resonated with streamers in the way Comcast hoped.

By contrast, Disney has seen success with moving many of its FX programming to Hulu while launching Star Wars and Pixar-exclusive content on Disney Plus. A decision by WarnerMedia executives to offer same-day theatrical releases on HBO Max last year helped spur subscriber interest in that service. Discovery Plus has found success by repurposing its general entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge franchises on cable for the streaming service.