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NBCU's streaming service Peacock pushes to 15 million sign-ups, Comcast CEO says

Sign-ups for NBCUniversal Media LLC's Peacock streaming service have grown significantly since its national launch this summer.

Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts said the service now has 15 million sign-ups, a 50% increase from six weeks ago.

Speaking at an investor conference on Sept. 15, Roberts noted that in Comcast's broadband-only homes Peacock ranks as the No.2 app, just behind Netflix Inc. In homes with its Xfinity X1 TV service, it ranks third behind Netflix and Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube. Peacock is closing in "pretty quickly" on the latter, he said.

Peacock bowed to Comcast subscribers on April 15 and rolled out nationally three months later. On the company's second-quarter earnings call on July 30, NBCU CEO Jeff Shell reported that there had been 10 million sign-ups.

Roberts expects more growth ahead, with the addition of popular sitcoms "Parks and Recreation," starting on Oct. 1, and "The Office" in 2021. NBCU has forecast that Peacock will attract 30 million to 35 million monthly active accounts by 2024.

Sports have also been a draw for the service. For instance, Peacock recently featured action from the first round of the 2020-21 season of Premier League, the U.K.'s top soccer circuit, and it will present coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship from Sept. 17-20. The postponed Tokyo Olympics will also feature prominently next summer.

The return of sports, after the coronavirus shut down live events in March, has helped Comcast recover to some degree in the advertising market, which Roberts said reached "a low-water mark" in the second quarter. The company is "seeing a nice pick up in demand" since the NFL is kicking off and production is resuming on TV content, he said. A number of NBC's series will return to air in November. The use of NBCU's One Platform portfolio sales approach, optimizing the reach of linear and precision of digital, is also providing a boost.

Roberts said the upfront is reflecting stronger demand than many people estimated just a few months ago. During the upfront, content providers sell linear and digital schedules to media agencies and clients ahead of the upcoming TV season. This year, that process has been slowed by the pandemic's halting of TV production and by economic uncertainty in the shadow of the virus.

Meanwhile, the scatter market, in which marketers secure commercial time closer to when a program airs, has been improving almost daily, which bodes well for full third- and fourth-quarter results.

Overall, Roberts said the ad market is "not back to not back to where we were, but I think there are real encouraging signs on it."

Roberts also addressed COVID-19's impact on the film business. Universal Pictures delayed the theatrical release of tentpole films, including "F9," the ninth installment of the "Fast & Furious" franchise and "Minions: The Rise of Gru," into 2021 as a result of the health risks associated with visiting theaters during the pandemic.

Roberts noted that films do not always contribute returns in the year they are released due to production and marketing expenses, though other revenue streams materialize in future years. However, with theater closures resulting in the absence of new films this year, Roberts said 2021 will be down because the company will not have the residual new sales from the movies from 2020.

Overall, he does not believe the film business will return to normalcy until 2022.

"I think that's true for all studios, but I'll let them speak to that,” he said.

On the cable side of the house, Roberts expects the company's third quarter to mark a record number of net broadband additions — upward of 500,000. That total would exceed the previous mark of 492,000 set in the first quarter of 2008.

The cable provider bolstered its broadband business in the second quarter by adding a net of 323,000 high-speed internet customers, its best second-quarter result in 13 years.