M&E Daily

Comcast CEO: No Plans to Stop Licensing Content to Others After D2C Service Launches

As Comcast continues to ready its own direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming service for a 2020 launch, we shouldn’t necessarily expect the company to follow in the footsteps of Disney and stop licensing its own content to Netflix and other third-party streaming services, according to Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO and president.

“I don’t think that’s our mindset at the moment,” he said Feb. 26 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

Comcast and its NBCUniversal division own a lot of content and, although it might make sense to keep some of that content limited to its own service, it might very well make sense to continue offering other content to third-party services, he explained. Therefore, Comcast isn’t planning to go “cold turkey” when it comes to licensing its content to rival streaming services, he said.

The company announced its D2C streaming service in January and Roberts said on an earnings call a few days later that it will include current and prior seasons’ TV show episodes, along with some original content, while providing marketers with targetable digital advertising.

Explaining the company’s strategy further Jan. 26, he told conference attendees: “One of the things that we have not achieved all of our ambitions on is targeted direct advertising to consumers. We still do most of it through the broadcast and cable technology, where we all experience very much the same thing and we’re not giving you an intelligent ad. These streaming platforms have that capability.”

Comcast, meanwhile, is “focused on three big priorities right now” overall, he said. First, it wants to continue being the leader on all the products in the markets it serves, he noted. Comcast is in four big geographies now, following its purchase of European pay-TV company Sky, and it’s No. 1 or 2 in broadband and video in every one of those markets, he pointed out.

Another main priority for Comcast now is to keep improving the customer experience, technology and content offerings for customers to remain on top, he said. Therefore, it keeps innovating and improving its broadband offering with faster speeds and other enhancements, he noted.

Comcast made Amazon Prime Video available to pay-TV subscribers using its Xfinity X1 set-top boxes at the end of the year and is “having the same kind of success that we had with Netflix” so far, he told attendees. Netflix functionality was integrated into X1 in 2016.

Stressing the strength of NBCUniversal’s film content, he noted that Universal Pictures distributed “Green Book,” which won the Oscar for Best Picture Feb. 24 and Universal was also No. 1 at the theatrical box office over the same weekend with “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”

In 2019, Comcast wants to grow its relationships and high-value subscriptions to its services, and also “monetize content using our new streaming platform,” he said.

Asked if he was concerned about the arrival of 5G wireless service, he said: “We’re feeling really good about our position.” There will be more competition and Comcast is ready for that, he said, noting “there always seem to be clouds in this business.”

But Roberts noted he goes to lots of conferences and he’s often heard about new technologies that could threaten his business. He pointed to Google Fiber as one prior example. Although everybody has heard about such new technologies, very few people often adapt them, he said.

“We know 5G’s coming [and] what its implications will be,” so Comcast is “trying to stay on top of it.” But he asked rhetorically if 5G’s backers can make a bit of 5G cheaper than a bit of fiber or coax, and answered: “The answer is absolutely not…. It’s much more expensive…. Is it faster? They’re hoping to get to the speeds we’re offering today and by the time they do, we’re hoping to be 10 times faster or beyond.”

Roberts went on to say: “There’s nothing more reliable than a wire,” so 5G wireless won’t be as reliable as what Comcast offers either.