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Comcast plans to double its content spending on Peacock in hopes of luring more paid subscribers

Overall, Comcast’s revenues were up 9.5% to $30.3 billion, boosted by the return of tourists to theme parks, which had their most profitable fourth quarter on record.

The Comcast logo as seen from the Xfinity Store in Willow Grove. Comcast fourth-quarter profits fell 9.6% to $3 billion, as the cable giant signed up far fewer internet customers than it did during the same period in 2020.
The Comcast logo as seen from the Xfinity Store in Willow Grove. Comcast fourth-quarter profits fell 9.6% to $3 billion, as the cable giant signed up far fewer internet customers than it did during the same period in 2020.Read moreJeff Fusco / Comcast via AP

Comcast plans to spend billions of dollars more on content for its Peacock streaming service, aiming to lure paying subscribers to its mostly ad-supported streaming service.

The Philadelphia media giant expects to double content spending on Peacock this year to $3 billion, with a goal of ramping that up to $5 billion domestically over the next couple years, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said Thursday. The new strategy comes after the NBC streaming service finished 2021 with 24.5 million monthly active accounts, higher than company executives said they expected but still well below the dominant streaming services.

Peacock launched in July 2020 with a different streaming strategy from its rivals. Rather than seek more revenue from consumers through higher subscription fees, Comcast aimed to attract viewers with cheap or free content and show them ads. Peacock offers free and paid tiers of $5 and $10 a month.

» READ MORE: Comcast’s Peacock and other streaming apps are adding more live sports

“What we’ve learned so far is that we started with the right business model,” Roberts said during an earnings conference call with analysts. He said the company’s research suggests the vast majority of consumers prefer an ad-supported service over a higher-cost, ad-free subscription offering.

Still, Roberts said Comcast believes “the most valuable end state for Peacock is to have two revenue streams.” To that end, Comcast plans to increase and reallocate programming spending to drive further growth in paid subscribers, “which we believe is the right path to creating long-term value,” Roberts said.

Comcast will still spend significantly less on streaming content than some of its rivals. Netflix reportedly planned to spend $17 billion on content in fiscal 2021. Amazon spent $11 billion on content for Prime Video and music in 2020.

Earlier in the day, Comcast reported an adjusted earnings loss of $559 million for Peacock during the fourth quarter. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said the planned investment increase will likely result in an adjusted loss of $2.5 billion.

“While the timing of when Peacock breaks even may be pushed out from where we originally expected, we believe pursuing a dual revenue stream is the right strategy to create long-term value,” Shell said. Of the 24.5 million monthly active accounts, Peacock has about 9 million paid subscribers, company officials said.

» READ MORE: Comcast’s Peacock streaming service hopes to lure cord-cutters with old-school concept

Comcast’s new Peacock plans come after other streaming rivals saw their stock prices fall last week after lower-than-expected subscriber growth. Netflix, the market leader with about 222 million total subscribers, saw its stock price tumble 20% last week when it reported slowing subscriber growth. Shares in Disney and Roku fell, too.

Comcast reported Thursday that it signed up far fewer internet customers during the fourth quarter last year than in 2020 but continued to see theme parks rebound after they were pummeled by the pandemic. Fourth-quarter profits fell 9.6% to $3.06 billion, or 66 cents per share, from nearly $3.4 billion a year earlier. The company’s revenues rose 9.5% to $30.3 billion, beating analysts expectations.

Comcast shares closed at $48.01, down 0.93%.

The cable giant added 212,000 broadband subscribers from October through December, down 60.6% from the 558,000 gained a year earlier. Comcast’s broadband business had accelerated in 2020 as more people studied and worked remotely. That growth slowed down during the second half of 2021.

After COVID-19 upended NBCUniversal in 2020, the entertainment unit saw revenues rise 25.6% to $9.3 billion during the fourth quarter. Theme parks had their most profitable fourth quarter on record, as revenue jumped 191% to $1.9 billion, despite limited international guest attendance. Over in Europe, Sky’s fourth-quarter revenue was down 2.4% to $5.1 billion.