Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh Talks PVOD, Parks & Peacock At Media Conference

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Comcast chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh said the conglom was “pleased” with the weekend PVOD debut of Pete Davidson-starrer The King Of Staten Island – its latest film to go directly on-demand — and reiterated that while the company’s very eager for theaters to reopen it is likely the distribution model may have permanently changed for “certain types of titles.”

“Long-term we will see how that later half of the year film dating turns out. We’ve got to see when states and markets open back up and then theaters can open and what that means for theatrical releases, which we’d love to come back. [Meanwhile] “PVOD has been helpful in the near term,” Cavanagh said at a CSFB-hosted virtual media conference Tuesday. “We will be eager to get our [films] back in theaters and, on a case-by-case basis given the experience consumers are having in their homes, it is likely that for certain types of titles there can be a constructive way for all participants in the ecosystem to make it work for consumers and, economically, for all players in the ecosystem.”

Universal’s release of Trolls World Tour on PVOD after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered theaters created a howl from exhibitors, which grew louder when execs refused to say that it was purely a one-off thing. On an earnings call last week, AMC Entertainment had threatened to boycott Universal’s films when the nation’s largest chain opens its door.  “We’ll see how it all shakes out,” CEO Adam Aron said on a conference call last week to discuss first quarter financials. He said the exhib and the studio are in “active dialogue”  and that it was nothing personal. “This is just an issue about money.”

Cavanagh said that, “Right now, the focus is on how to get theaters back open. We want that, they want that. But until then it is a film-by-film issue. What to do with films that are ready to go and the ones that are not yet produced, to figure out when you can get them back into theatres. You’ve seen others wrestling with that in recent days,” he said. The tentative summer film schedule flipped on Friday when Warner Bros’ moved Tenet, the first tentpole slated for the grand reopening, from July 17 out two weeks. Other studios rearranged skeds in response, pushing films to later in the year.

Addressing money-hemohoraging theme parks, Cavanagh said losses for the quarter would still be in the $500 million range, or maybe a tad less, despite reopening Japan and Orlando and with Universal Studios Hollywood planning to open in July. The company floated the estimated loss on its first-quarter earnings call. The issue is attendance, limited at all parks to ensure social distancing. “It is early days. We’re pleased that we are getting the chance to gradually ramp up attendance,” he said. But the parks overall are still clearly nowhere near the 20% to 30% attendance needed to hit breakeven.

On Peacock, he’s upbeat about the national launch in mid-July and said that so far the streaming service – which is being released in waves across Comcast markets – “is ahead of our internal expectations by a bit.” He sees it kicking gradually into higher gear over next year and a half with major events like The Office coming on in 2021, the Summer Olympics and the Super Bowl. It’s got an innovative ad model, with ten advertising sponsors signed on for 18 months. That’s driving innovation “in the types of ads and the interactivity of those ads,” he said. “What we are finding is that the opportunity for us and advertisers working together is to drive engagement and value of addressability.”

The thing with Comcast is that it’s laser focused on broadband and sees many of its businsses, like cable programming and Peacock, as serving the high-speed crowd. The company has “pivoted the focus to where broadband is the central product. It is about broadband and what else can we give you to round out broadband”

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