NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Thursday that parent company Comcast expects the Tokyo Olympics to turn a profit, despite the hit the spectator-less event has taken in linear ratings and the overall shadow cast on it by the pandemic.
“We’ve had some bad luck,” Shell said during Comcast’s Q2 earnings call on Thursday, which fell on Day 6 of the Summer Games. “But if you look at the product, it’s fantastic. And it’s really impossible — what I would say about Peacock is what we learn in this Olympics we’ll take to Beijing and change the product, change the offering for each Olympics going forward. And we’re really excited about that.”
As expected, the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics suffered a huge ratings drop for NBC last Friday to become the least-viewed in the last 30 years. The four-hour telecast, which began at around 6:55 a.m. ET and was also re-aired in primetime across the country, averaged 17 million viewers in preliminary numbers. Not only was that 35.8% below the Rio Games in 2016, but it was lower than the 21.6 million who tuned in to watch the 1992 Barcelona Games kick off. That had been the previous low over the last 33 years.
The Rio Games themselves started off with the second-lowest opener this millennium with 26.5 million viewers (and that year was mostly live in the East Coast since Brazil is in a favorable time zone — Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of New York).
“There was a drumbeat of negativity — we got moved a year and no spectators,” Shell added. “And that has resulted a little bit in linear ratings being probably less than we expected. But the flip side of that is the digital strength has kind of offset that. So what’s happening with Peacock, that’s directly related to the Olympics. With all this bad luck, we’re going to be profitable on the Olympics, which we’re very happy with and we’re very happy with the product.”
What’s “happening with Peacock” is that the streaming platform now has 54 million signups to date, a figure Comcast revealed along with its second-quarter earnings results Thursday. That’s a significant increase from the 42 million signups the service reported at the end of Q1.
Shell also said it’s “impossible to understate the importance of the Olympics to NBCUniversal,” which are not just a financial asset to Comcast, but “operationally across the company.”
“We have 4,000 people, literally, working on it. [Comcast CEO Brian Roberts] and I were in Tokyo, I came back and saw our team in Connecticut,” Shell said. “People, this is their life’s work. We have experts on surfing and volleyball and gymnastics. And it is an operation that would be very difficult to replicate the talent and experience that our team brings to it. And they show it every night at NBC and then of course, the Olympics are the perfect property to show the strength of our platform across not only NBCUniversal, but Comcast and Xfinity and Sky.”
Comcast beat Wall Street’s expectations for earnings and revenue in its second-quarter 2021 results, which you can read more about here.