Comcast’s Still Not Sure There’s Any Money In This Whole “Streaming” Thing

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You might have heard that it’s 2016, and streaming your TV via the internet is all the rage. And yet despite being just as susceptible to cord-cutters as anyone (everyone) else, Comcast is still not thinking the whole streaming-TV thing is a moneymaker.

In the company’s quarterly investor call this week (transcript), Comcast executives faced many questions about over-the-top (broadband) TV. And they were… less than enthusiastic.

Neil Smit, the CEO of Comcast Cable (as opposed to the whole Comcast company), told investors that, “We haven’t seen an OTT model that really is very profitable for us.”

That doesn’t speak well for its “Stream” streaming service, which is still in a very small pilot test.

Smit continued, “We think that … the bundle is still the best value. And concerning single-play and broadband, we do market that. We think there’s going to continue to be streaming services and OTT services that come through and broadband will continue to grow as we continue to invest in the network and the WiFi capabilities.”

Comcast (the whole thing, this time) CEO Brian Roberts seemed to echo the sentiment that the company would rather be in the broadband business than the one selling you content over it.

“OTT economics are unproven to us, and out of footprint” — meaning, to people who aren’t already Comcast cable or internet subscribers — “it’s not clear that that’s the right strategy for us,” Roberts said.

“So we’re about a business model where we’re able to grow the customer base, have customers that have multiple products, really high value and ever-reducing churn and innovative new products you that bolt on. Now, it’s not clear how you do that where you don’t have a network, but we’re innovating all the time, and we’re happy with the strategy we have,” he concluded.

Translated out of Financialese and back into English, Roberts basically told investors that the company has no interest in offering TV programming to people who aren’t connected to their actual wire network. So Comcast broadband subscribers? Sure, let’s maybe build something in for them, some kind of TV Everywhere product to bundle — but no, we’re not interested in pulling a Dish Sling or a PlayStation Vue out of our hats.

The executives all took this stance despite clearly finding streaming TV to be of interest, and worth pursuing. Roberts opened the call by repeatedly singing the praises of streaming media.

Roberts gushed to investors about coverage of the upcoming Rio Olympics, saying, “NBC’s coverage will be unprecedented; everything live streamed. 306 events, 11 networks, close to 6,800 hours of content.” He also enthused over the X1 platform, calling it “a destination that will combine live television, online streaming and on-demand content.”

Stephen Burke, the CEO of NBCUniversal, stuck with the company line, although it looks a little different from the content company half of the business. Burke spoke to needing to get his content onto everyone else’s streaming offerings, saying that “the key there is going to be making sure that we’re in every bundle, and I think we’re going to be.”

He also spoke to “making sure they’re incremental, that they’re not cannibalistic,” meaning that OTT packages need to not make people cancel their pay TV. (Too late.)

“I believe the vast majority of OTT subscribers will be incremental. We’ll be going after people who currently are not part of the ecosystem and therefore will be additive to NBCUniversal and all of Comcast NBCUniversal as well,” Burke said.

It’s true that Comcast’s broadband subscribers aren’t going anywhere. That’s because, by and large, consumers have no choice of their provider in a largely uncompetitive marketplace full of local monopolies. But their TV subscribers are still peeling away. Sure, there are some ways to make TV cheap enough that customers who otherwise wouldn’t sign up and stay… but heading into the future counting on it is probably a bad plan.

[via DSL Reports]

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