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NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service is growing, thanks to live sports

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium, Oct. 2, 2022.

Kim Klement | USA Today Sports | Reuters

NBCUniversal’s sports portfolio has been driving growth at its streaming service Peacock, and the company has no plans to let up, with other sports rights deals top of mind.

Sports are a double-edged sword for media companies contending with relentless cord cutting and trying to make their streaming services profitable.

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Live sports content has long been the glue holding together the traditional cable TV bundle, which is losing customers at a faster clip while costing media organizations more. At the same time, sports are serving as a propeller of growth for streaming, especially for fledgling services such as Peacock and Paramount Global’s Paramount+.

NBCUniversal’s parent company, Comcast, on Thursday touted that Peacock nearly doubled its customer count year over year to 24 million. Sports were a big part of the conversation.

“Sports continues to be a huge driver, with the NFL, Nascar, golf, Premier League, the World Cup on Telemundo — including the Women’s World Cup going on right now — Big Ten starting this fall, and the Paris Olympics coming up next year,” President Mike Cavanagh said on an investor call after Comcast’s second-quarter earnings report.

NBCUniversal airs most of its sports properties, including Sunday Night Football and Premier League soccer, simultaneously on its TV networks and Peacock, a similar model to Paramount’s NFL playbook.

According to Cavanagh, simultaneous streaming has given the company and its sports assets “tremendous reach,” and all at a lower cost to the consumer.

Peacock is priced at $4.99 a month for its ad-supported tier — though it’s reportedly increasing $1 a month — a big price difference from the cost of typical cable TV bundles.

Building up sports

NBCUniversal is considering bringing the National Basketball Association back to its portfolio, too.

While Cavanagh said NBC didn’t “necessarily need it given the portfolio we have,” the company would still take a look at the upcoming media rights.

The NBA won’t begin formal negotiations with companies outside the current rights holders, Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney, before April 2024, unless those partners waive their exclusive negotiation rights.

CNBC earlier this year reported NBC Sports was considering a bid for NBA rights.

Meanwhile, Disney executives have said it’s a matter of “when, not if” ESPN’s live channels will be offered a la carte through streaming services.

Earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Iger opened the door to selling its cable TV channels, but said ESPN was still part of the Disney playbook going forward. Instead, Disney is having discussions with potential partners or minority investors for ESPN.

Professional leagues, including the NBA, NFL and MLB, have been part of those discussions, CNBC previously reported.

ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro at CNBC x Boardroom’s inaugural event earlier this week debunked any notion that ESPN channels on streaming would upend the traditional TV model.

“The [traditional TV] model has been very good to Disney,” Pitaro said, noting ESPN would still live on traditional TV and that the network was working with pay TV distributors.

An ESPN deal would be less likely for NBC Sports, Cavanagh said Thursday.

Any sort of swap or tie up of the businesses, as Cavanagh said has been speculated about NBC Sports and ESPN, would be “very improbable,” given “tremendous issues around tax minority shareholder structuring.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.

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