Peacock picks up NFL playoff game, Comcast CEO says sports streaming drives broadband value

The NFL on Monday announced NBCUniversal’s Peacock will be the exclusive home for a championship playoff game next year, and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts sees the future trajectory of sports streaming as helping to drive the value of the cable operator’s high-speed broadband networks.

For the NFL game, Peacock will be home to the first-ever exclusive live streamed NFL Playoff game, presenting the NFL Wild Card Playoff in primetime on Saturday, January 13, 2024. The deal for the game is reportedly in the range of $110 million, per the WSJ. With two Saturday NFL Wild Card games and a Sunday primetime NFL WildCard game on both NBC and Peacock, next January NBCU will be the first company to offer three NFL playoff games in a single weekend.

During Tuesday’s MoffettNathanson TMT investor conference, analyst Craig Moffett called the playoff game on the streaming service “sort of a seismic thing.”

“It's one thing for Amazon to put on Thursday night games of the Jaguars or Panthers, it’s a different thing to say I'm going to take a playoff game and make it exclusively available on Peacock,” Moffett said, while also suggesting an NFL playoff game on streaming could accelerate cord cutting as it takes another marquee sporting event off of linear.

In discussing sports streaming, Roberts, speaking at the MoffettNathanson event, didn’t only cite the new NFL game on Peacock – which he categorized as a “first of its kind” – but a larger shift over the next 10 years of live sports and viewership to streaming, a trend which is already underway. That includes Amazon’s Thursday Night Football stream, YouTube TV’s upcoming NFL Sunday Ticket package, and Apple’s Major League Soccer coverage, among several others, which Roberts indicated will fuel an expected trend of increased consumption and rising bits per home, in turn driving the need for capacity.

According to Roberts, since the advent of the internet, Sunday night has been the highest traffic night in America in terms of bits per home – meaning traffic of anything connected to the internet be it a smart refrigerator, gaming, or TV – but that changed with Amazon’s TNF stream last year.

“Amazon took one football game and put it on Thursday night and changed the entire consumption of  America with a game that only had 50% of the viewing it had on broadcast the year before, give or take,” he said. “So it wasn’t necessarily like a Gangbuster game, but it was only available with streaming.”

Talking to capacity needs, Roberts said sports streaming is one application over the next 10 years, where everyone is likely in agreement that there will be more streaming of sports than there is today.  And live sports streams put pressure on connectivity, increasing the value of Comcast’s cable broadband networks that utilize DOCSIS 4.0 and which the company has a plan to get to 10G, with multi-gig symmetrical speeds being rolled out in 2023.

“When you stream you need more capacity for those peak moments,” he said, while also calling out new features that utilize bandwidth such as multiple feeds with Apple’s MLS Pass.

Asked by Moffett if the decision to put the game on Peacock wasn’t just a move for the media side of the business but the broadband unit as well, Roberts said it’s a “virtuous cycle we’re in right now” and that the company is looking at the whole picture of Comcast.

He noted that Comcast is following a transition of what’s historically been broadcast or cable television into streaming – and while it wants to make as many of those bits its own as possible, the other aim is to deliver streams, whoever they’re from, seamlessly.

“The last thing you’re going to want is a spinning wheel in that game with the big moment because everybody tuned in right at that moment. And that’s what our network is designed to handle,” Roberts commented.

As to whether this means a long runway for price appreciation or unit growth in broadband, the chief executive said it’s about value to the consumer and then also what Comcast can attach to its broadband offer - bringing it back to the relationship with Peacock and the exclusive NFL playoff stream.

“We are in one ecosystem, and as we try to make those investments and have that crystal ball, I like the fact that our company is touching all parts of it in a unique way,” Roberts said. “And doing so in a way that is feeding on itself.”

Questioned by the analyst if streaming is a good business, Roberts said that NBCUniversal’s Peacock is “a logical extension” not just a separate business.

“For us streaming was a way to take advantage of this technology shift and bring that content to an audience on any device, anywhere they want to do it, and that’s Peacock,” Roberts said.

While Peacock , which now counts 22 million subscribers, started as a free service NBCU did away with its free tier for users earlier this year. Comcast Xfinity subscribers also got free access to Peacock but Roberts noted that in the back half of the year many will begin to covert to paid customers, helping to generate both a subscription fee and ad revenue.

Comcast anticipates Peacock losses will peak in 2023 and improve going forward.