While advertisers are heading into the Beijing Olympics with diminished expectations, Peacock’s beefed-up live-streaming scheme and a suspension of its authentication policy may go a long way toward improving NBC’s overall deliveries.
Comcast earlier this month announced it will stream the entirety of the 2022 Winter Games on its Peacock platform, an all-inclusive offering that will replicate the linear-TV experience. To draw younger viewers to its DTC service, NBC’s parent company will no longer require users to have an existing cable subscription as a condition of accessing the streaming Olympics content.
Cord-dodgers looking to stream all the action from Beijing will pay $4.99 for access to Peacock’s premium tier, which launched in July 2020, while the service is free of charge to Comcast Xfinity subscribers. The nation’s largest cable provider closed out 2021 with 17.5 million residential video customers, which marked a decline of 8%, or 1.3 million subs, versus the year-ago period.
As part of a promotional effort spearheaded by NBCUniversal, Comcast rivals Cox and Charter/Spectrum are also making Peacock Premium available to their own subscribers at no additional cost.
Removing the authentication gatekeeper should help NBC reach a great deal of Olympics enthusiasts who don’t spend much time in front of the tube. (In the last two years, overall TV usage in primetime dropped by some 20%, and viewership among adults in the 18-34 demo were down nearly 36%.) NBC is heading into the Winter Games fully aware of what it’s up against on the TV front; according to media buyers, the network’s ratings guarantees are at an ebb, with the primetime broadcasts expected to average around 11.5 million viewers per night. By way of comparison, in 2018 NBC averaged 17.8 million viewers over the course of its 18 primetime broadcasts from Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The 2018 Winter Olympics generated $920 million in national ad sales.
TV ratings for the Winter Olympics are generally at their highest during the first week of competition, when the schedule is overstuffed with figure skating, snowboarding and alpine skiing. NBC’s primetime coverage of those events should reach 16 million viewers or more, dwarfing everything else on TV in February’s post-NFL landscape. Season-to-date, the non-sports programming on the Big Four broadcast networks is averaging 4.14 million viewers per series.
In last week’s pre-recorded presentation to the media, Dan Lovinger, president of NBCUniversal ad sales and partnerships, said his team had lined up “nearly 100 advertisers” for the Beijing Games, “which is roughly what we had at this time going into Pyeongchang.” Lovinger went on to note that marketers were investing a bit more in 2022 than was the case four years ago. “The average spend level has grown slightly from Pyeongchang, particularly from the returning advertisers, which seems to indicate that they have faith in the franchise and are happy to be back,” Lovinger said.
Earlier in the same presentation, NBC Sports Group chairman Pete Bevacqua said the company has taken great pains to eliminate the hiccups that made streaming the Summer Games such a chore for many users. “I think we learned some valuable lessons in Tokyo,” Bevacqua said. “We’re proud of… all the hours of content we had, but I would tell you, I would be the first to admit, we realize we had to make it easier for the viewer to navigate that, to digest the amount of Olympic content.” Bevacqua didn’t go into any great detail regarding the Peacock upgrade, saying only that the service has introduced “state-of-the-art navigation tools” in advance of the midwinter event.
According to the 8-K Comcast filed this morning with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Peacock has amassed 24.5 million monthly active accounts, of which 9 million are paid subscriptions. The last time Comcast provided an update on Peacock’s sub count was in July 2021, on the sixth day of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, when it reported 20 million active users for the previous quarter.
Peacock last year generated $778 million in revenue, with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $1.7 billion. By way of comparison, Peacock’s 2020 stat sheet featured revenues of $118 million and a loss of $663 million. Speaking to investors on their earnings call, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh said Peacock would break even later than the initial models suggested, with EBITDA losses on pace to reach $2.5 billion in 2022.