Comcast’s streaming television service Peacock cruised to 20 million paying subscribers during its most-recent financial quarter, a sign that the service is still able to attract subscribers despite increasing competition in the streaming space.
The data point was released on Thursday as part of Comcast’s overall quarterly earnings report, which covers the three-month period ending December 31, 2022. It represented an increase of about 5 million paid accounts compared to the previous financial quarter.
Peacock’s growth was spurred in large part to Comcast’s decision to make NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecasts available on the service, starting with the season opener in early September. Comcast’s Telemundo was also the Spanish-language broadcaster of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with those games streamed on Peacock between mid-November and early December.
The service is still not earning any profit for Comcast — the company said Peacock suffered a financial loss of $978 million during its last financial quarter — but executives say this year should see the worst of that situation, with “peak losses” of around $3 billion projected for 2023 before things start to “steadily improve,” according to Comcast’s President Michael Cavanagh.
“We spend quite a bit of money creating content so migrating some of that content as eyeballs move to a more streaming universe — we like what we’re doing,” Cavanagh said. “We think Peacock is absolutely the right strategy for our company.”
Peacock got off to a somewhat rocky start when it launched nearly three years ago: The streaming service was expected to premiere during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, with a robust slate of events offered to subscribers. But the games were delayed one year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which meant Peacock had to market itself as a destination for a handful of original programs that largely didn’t resonate with audiences.
Adding to Peacock’s early woes was the fact that Comcast launched the service without a distribution agreement in place with Roku and Amazon for those streaming platforms, which meant it initially wasn’t available to around 70 percent of streaming TV viewers in the United States unless they used a different device.
It took a while for things to get sorted out, but Comcast and Peacock got there: After just a few months, agreements were reached to bring Peacock to Roku and Amazon Fire TV users, the Summer Olympic Games debuted with dozens of live programs in 2021, and Comcast moved its high-value NBC programming and cable TV fodder from the Walt Disney Company’s Hulu to Peacock.
Helping to boost Comcast’s adoption of Peacock: The company agreed to give its Xfinity TV and Internet users free access to the premium tier of service, which offers Peacock’s full catalog of content and live events. That perk will likely end in the future — Jeffrey Shell, the president of Comcast’s NBC Universal, said last year the company is exploring ways to charge customers who currently receive Peacock Premium for free — but for now, Comcast sees Peacock as a value add that keeps customers locked in to its other services.
That could be important over the short term, because Comcast’s recent earnings statement showed a rare dip in broadband Internet customers, with the company losing 26,000 accounts compared to a gain of 14,000 during the previous quarter. The company attributed that loss in large part due to a hurricane in Florida that knocked out some broadband infrastructure during the financial quarter.