Comcast Says DTC Strategy Aims for Quick Scale, Profit

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Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said that the company’s upcoming direct-to-consumer product will be positioned to gain scale quickly and leverage the company’s programming assets, advertising technology and millions of customer relationships.

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Brian Roberts

Comcast was slow to embrace streaming, but speaking on the company’s first quarter earnings call Thursday, Roberts said the company now accepts that streaming is going to happen.

For Comcast, which has a very profitable broadband business, “video over the internet is more friend than foe and wish every bit was our bit. But if people consume more bits--and video clearly does that and 4K video does even more of that--that’s in the sweet spot of where this company is going to grow.”

Disney earlier this month provided the financial community with financial details of its streaming plans, which are designed in part to help it compete against Netflix. WarnerMedia on Wednesday said it will be putting on a similar presentation in September or October.

Related: AT&T Plans WarnerMedia Day for Streaming Service

Robert noted that Comcast spends $24 billion on content, illustrating the breadth and depth of content it would have as ammunition to battle with Netflix, Disney and others. But he added that streaming would not be the company’s only strategy going forward. “It doesn’t all have to be on one platform to be successful, particularly when you do that on a global basis” he said.

Steve Burke, CEO of Comcast’s NBCU unit, said that the streaming battle was still in the early innings and that he expected there to be many additional entrants

“Our approach, which we think is very interesting and different, is to take thousands of hours of great programming and make it free to the vast majority of people who live in the United States, or the U.K. eventually,” he said. “We think that’s a way to get real scale quickly. And we think that’s a way to achieve profitability more quickly than we could otherwise.”

But when asked, the Comcast executives declined to provide additional details about the costs associated with the direct-to-consumer product.

“We’re not going to give any numbers for the obvious competitive reasons,” Burke said.

“We’re going to keep our powder dry,” Roberts added.

Analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research, doesn’t think Comcast is as well positioned for streaming as Disney.

While Comcast has “enviable” assets, Disney has a better collection of franchises and a stronger monetization engine, including its parks and merchandising operations, Moffett wrote in a note Thursday.

Disney has also made Comcast’s life tougher by setting a low price for its upcoming Disney+.

“In short, Comcast simply doesn’t have the DTC opening that Disney has,” Moffett said. “Sure, Comcast can and undoubtedly will, dabble in DTC and AVOD [advertiser supported video on demand]. But Comcast’s best path forward is to defend the status quo. Disney’s DTC strategy will impoverish the status quo, however, leaving Comcast with some very difficult choices to make.”

Comcast also indicated it was likely to keep its stake in Hulu for now. The Walt Disney Co. has a controlling interest in the streaming TV service after acquiring 21st Century Fox, which had a 30% stake, and buying AT&T’s stake for $1.34 billion.

“It’s really valuable. We’re really glad we own a large piece of it,” Roberts said.

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