NBC's Jason Garrett curiously called Dolphins star Tyreek Hill's presence pervasive during Saturday's playoff game. Photo Credit: Peacock Jason Garrett and Mike Tirico. Photo Credit: Peacock

Comcast in its earnings report today crowed about a three million rise quarter to quarter in subscribers to its sports and entertainment streamer Peacock, saying on a later investor call the digital platform was “seeing traction.”

On the call, Comcast president Michael Cavanagh said of Peacock’s exclusive streaming of the Kansas City Chiefs-Miami Dolphins NFL wildcard game on January 13, that it “brought in a tremendous number of subs ahead of where we expected it to be. And then retention that was ahead of where we expected it to be. And so that’s obviously great, and the power of sports to bring audiences together. And we’ll stay committed because of our strength in sports. But when you really reflect on what happened in the weeks that followed, our viewing was, the record highs across all parts of our non sports portfolio.”

That all sounds great.  So why not release the subscriber figures and retention rate from the game? Peacock paid $110 million for the contest (it was broadcast over the air in the Kansas City and Miami markets), so there is great interest in whether the payment justified the return because it underscores the questions surrounding whether sports can make the transition from linear to streaming without losing money. 

“They hit their internal goals, which I imagine were conservative, but they’re keeping the actual subs to themselves,” said sports media consultant Patrick Crakes. “That’s a tell. There’s some third-party data running around that suggests the sign up count was high.  I’d be careful with that. Truth is they’re not sharing, probably not because they don’t have a story to tell but they understand it’s about how many subs they keep over time. The whole problem with streaming is that the press loves a sub count story but it’s really all about churn (referring to subscribers who only sign up for a streaming service short term.) Think it’s smart for them not to play that game. At least not yet.”

That “third party” Crakes referred to is data company Antenna, which in January issued a report estimating 2.8 million Peacock signups for the game, which would be the largest ever for a one-time event (we’ll see if Netflix’s Jake-Paul-Mike Tyson fight in July beats that). A Comcast spokesperson told Awful Announcing, “We don’t release subscriber metrics on individual events or pieces of content but have shared that the game did well for us particularly as an acquisition driver.”

If Peacock did sign up 2.8 million subscribers–and Crakes clearly has his doubts–that would represent nearly the entire three million subs Peacock added in the first quarter in a quarter where Peacock also added “Oppenheimer” to its offerings. How many subs were added because of the wildcard game, and how many left (the churn) Peacock is not ready to say obviously.

Clearly Peacock is pleased though.  It’s added another exclusive NFL game, the Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles Sao Paulo, Brazil contest on the first Friday of the season.  And Amazon nabbed the exclusive rights to a wildcard game for the ‘24-’25 season.

The January wildcard stream blasted through digital records, attracting the equivalent of 23 million viewers, and using other metrics, 26  million. The game actually drew more viewers than the previous year’s game on linear TV (it helped to have the defending Super Bowl champion).

Year over year Peacock subscribers rose 55 percent to 34 million.  But losses continue to pile up, with the quarterly red ink tab $639 million, compared to $704 million in the year-ago period.

The focus on subscribers for streaming platforms has lessened recently as investors look increasingly toward profits. Netflix for example announced recently it would stop disclosing subscriber figures, arguing engagement, or time spent by users on the service, is the better metric.

In addition to the Brazil game, Peacock has a full 2024 sports calendar starting in the summer, with the Paris Summer Olympics, college football and the NFL on the schedule. One can only hope the media giant’s spartan transparency on how well a given sports event is performing will change by then.

About Daniel Kaplan

Daniel Kaplan has been covering the business of sports for more than two decades. A proud founding reporter of SportsBusiness Journal, he spent the last four years at The Athletic.