Peacock At 18M Paid Subscribers, Up From 15M In Sept.; Jeff Shell Says Universal Now Rivals Disney Animation, Sees “Big Check” Coming For Hulu Stake

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Peacock has more than 18 million paid subscribers as of today, a nice bump from the 15 million it announced for the quarter ended Sept. 30, driven by programming migrated from Hulu, sports and Universal movies.

He threw down the gauntlet to a Disney company currently in a bit of disarray, saying Universal now rivals Disney in animation, a key for IP that drives theme parks, among others things. In a Q&A today at the UBS media conference, he said he also said he anticipates a big chunk of money coming in from Disney to buy in the rest of Hulu.

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“If you had gone back ten years and said Disney is ever going to be challenged in animation, everyone would have said that is impossible,” said Shell. Now “I honestly think that… our animation rivals if not surpasses Disney.”

On Hulu, “We have a put, they have a call,” he said, on the 33% of Hulu owned by NBCU parent Comcast with the process starting at the end of 2023, resolving in early 2024. Disney currently has operational control. “It’s worth a lot of money and I think there’s no indication that anything else is going to happen than Disney writing us us a big check.” The price could fluctuate but will be in the tens of billions of dollars.

On a wobbly ad market, Shell confirmed the landscape had deteriorated over the past month, in particular, after “worsening steadily over the last six months.” He thinks it’s less a matter of actual business conditions than of uncertainty over whether the U.S. will dip into recession or manage to avoid a so-called hard landing. Rates are holding up but advertising is just coming late as advertisers “are trying to figure things out and holding back.”

Ad sales are up mid-single digits over a year ago, he said, driven by Peacock and election spending, including the Senate runoff in Georgia. “But there’s no question it’s getting worse.”

Referring to overall chaos in the media business with restructuring and layoffs across multiple companies, Shell said Comcast/NBCU went through that back in 2020 and doesn’t expects anything similar. But the turmoil may result in “some attractive assets” coming to market.

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