NBCUniversal’s TV Group Is Restructuring to Shift Focus From ‘Linear to Streaming,’ CEO Jeff Shell Says

NBCUniversal’s television group is adopting a new structure, under which it will “shift resources from linear to streaming,” NBCU CEO Jeff Shell said on Comcast’s second-quarter 2020 call.

In May, Shell put TV programming boss Mark Lazarus in charge of a new group, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, overseeing Peacock along with the networks, stations and NBC Sports. On the call Thursday, Shell told analysts that Lazarus is “finalizing a new structure” for the NBCU TV and Streaming group that will reallocate resources from the traditional TV side of the business to streaming. Shell said details of the restructuring will be announced soon.

“It is said that crises tend to accelerate and exacerbate trends, and that is certainly true in the television business,” Shell said.

NBCU’s television group is poised to undergo a significant downsizing as part of pending layoffs, which are expected to hit next month, Variety reported last week. For Q2, Comcast reported a $506 million loss on an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) basis, up $293 million versus the year-ago period, “due to certain costs incurred in the second quarter of 2020 in response to COVID-19, including severance and restructuring charges related to our NBCUniversal segments.”

Shell and other Comcast execs were upbeat on the early results from Peacock, announcing that the fledgling streaming service — available in free, ad-supported versions and subscription tiers — has lured 10 million signups since it debuted in April for Comcast Xfinity and Flex customers and on July 15 nationally.

“The company is really trying to lean into streaming,” Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said on the call, referencing Peacock and Universal’s landmark deal with AMC Theatres allowing the studio to after a 17-day window. “I’m pretty excited as the world is transitioning… broadband is making that all possible.”

Shell said the 10 million Peacock signups does not equate to “monthly active accounts,” and he said it’s too early to gauge the latter metric. But, he added, “We didn’t expect this many signups, we didn’t expect this many people to come back, and we didn’t expect people to watch as much as they are.”

NBCU revenue fell 25.4% in Q2 to $6.1 billion, while adjusted EBITDA declined 29.5% to $1.6 billion. The EBITDA drop was driven by the 168% plunge in revenue for the theme park division as its Universal Studios parks in California, Orlando, Fla., and Japan were shuttered by the pandemic for most of Q2.

Regarding the NBCU’s film business, Shell boasted that the company has been pioneers” in distributing movies on digital platforms, saying the releases of “Trolls World Tour” and “The King of Staten Island” had “exceeded our expectations.”

Those releases “led to our groundbreaking partnership with AMC,” Shell said, under which Universal films will get at least a 17-day theatrical run before the studio can offer titles for sale on premium VOD. “I commend [AMC CEO] Adam Aron,” Shell said, adding that he’s optimistic that “we can build a new attractive business together.” AMC will receive a cut of PVOD revenue streams, but details of the pact weren’t disclosed.

Shell said “we’ve always believed there’s a growing segment of the population who don’t go to movie theaters,” and said Universal’s deal with AMC is an effort to reach those stay-at-home consumers. That will let Universal maximize the “giant marketing” spend behind its movie releases, Shell said.

The chicken-and-egg problem right now that studios don’t want to release movies when most theaters aren’t open, but exhibitors can’t open unless there are new films they can screen. The Universal/AMC Theatres deal “will actually allow movies to come back to theaters when it’s safe more quickly.”

Shell admitted that for NBCU’s TV group it’s a “total bummer” that the Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed until 2021, but he said it was a “bit of a silver lining” for Peacock, because the streaming service will be able to leverage next summer’s games for promotion.

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