NBCU CEO talks Peacock growth, giving back hour of primetime, Hulu and reports it might buy up other media companies

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NBCUniversal’s CEO appeared on the company’s own CNBC channel Oct. 4, 2022 to share updates about streaming, Peacock and talk that the network may give back the 10 p.m. hour to affiliates.

Jeff Shell noted that Peacock, NBCU’s streamer, added 2 million paid subscribers since its flat 2022 Quarter 1 figure of 13 million.

In the grand scheme of things, adding 2 million paid subscribers isn’t all that impressive. It’s perhaps even less impressive when one considers that, in between that, NBC streamed both the Super Bowl and select 2022 Winter Olympics events on Peacock in hopes of boosting its subscriber count.

Peacock is somewhat unique among streamers in that it has a free tier that offers a limited selection of content supported by advertising. It also has an ad-supported tier that allows access to the entire content library and a top tier one that removes most ads.

Peacock reportedly has about 60 million active accounts. Not only can anyone sign up for a free account, but NBCU parent Comcast gives millions of its Xfinity TV subscribers free access to the mid-tier offering, but those don’t appear to be counted as “paid” accounts.

All told, Shell said that Peacock is bringing in average revenue of $10 per user.

Peacock launched in July 2020, a date that was supposed to help the 2020 Summer Olympics buoy interest in the service — but those games ended up being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means the service is a little over two years old, which most would consider to be young. NBCU is heavily marketing the service, including with tons of promos on all of its broadcast properties, but it still seems to be lacking the growth that might be expected of a service in such an early stage.

While Peacock does offer a selection of original programming, it hasn’t invested quite as much as most other streamers in big-name shows, which could be one reason its growth appears to be slower than it likely should be.

It is possible that NBCU’s strategy is somehow tied to slower growth with less upfront investment in original content, but that would appear to fly in the face of what shareholders might expect and the hyper-intensive streaming wars.

NBC recently made the decision to move “Days of Our Lives” off its broadcast affiliates and onto Peacock — a move that had many scratching their heads.

Around the same time, talk began to surface that the network was considering giving affiliates back an hour of primetime, something Shell also addressed during his CNBC appearance.

While no decision has been made, he did indicate that the network is moving forward with reallocating resources toward growth areas.

Broadcast TV is largely considered to be a non-growth category for media outlets, with digital and direct-to-consumer typically seen as better and often more profitable opportunities, hence the heavy investment in these areas.

It also doesn’t appear that NBCU will be able to leverage streamer Hulu much moving forward, which it still holds a stake in. While the network would be interested in the venture, Shell said he thinks Disney will move forward with its obligation to buy out NBCU’s shares of the company.

Shell also briefly addressed reports that NBCU could be looking to acquire other media assets to expand its empire, including possibly acquiring Warner Bros. Discovery, which itself was formed earlier in 2022 after Discovery and WarnerMedia merged.

WBD’s Dazid Zaslav responded to those reports by saying the company isn’t for sale — and Shell told CNBC that he doesn’t see the need foir any mergers and acquisitions at this point, but left the door open for deals that could be had for the right price.