Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) management shared more details about its streaming service Peacock than it usually does during its quarterly updates last week. CEO Brian Roberts and head of NBCUniversal Jeff Shell dove deeper into the numbers during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

But Comcast's numbers aren't particularly impressive compared to its competitors in the space, like AT&T's (NYSE:T) HBO Max and Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Disney+, or the media conglomerate's relatively modest long-term outlook.

Behind the numbers

The headline number for Comcast this quarter was 42 million Peacock "sign-ups." But a person who's signed up for Peacock isn't necessarily watching the service regularly. And since Peacock is primarily an ad-supported streaming service, active viewers would be a much more important metric to follow.

Comcast's Peacock homescreen on its Xfinity Flex platform.

Peacock on Xfinity Flex. Image source: Comcast.

Shell shared that about one-third of all sign-ups -- roughly 14 million -- are considered active accounts. They either streamed the free ad-supported version of Peacock or paid for a subscription. That's slightly better than a report from The Information in February indicating Peacock had just 11.3 million active accounts.

Shell compared Peacock's active accounts to Hulu, of which Comcast owns a minority stake (it's fully controlled by Disney). Hulu ended 2020 with 39.4 million total subscribers. Shell pointed out that Peacock is one-third of the way to Hulu's subscriber level despite Hulu's 12-year head start. However, he ignores the fact that Hulu now requires a subscription.

Active Peacock accounts are well short of Disney+ subscribers, which crossed over 100 million globally earlier this year and total around 40 million in the U.S. Peacock also falls short of HBO Max activations, which climbed to 17.2 million by the end of 2020, but AT&T stopped reporting this year.

Importantly, Peacock's current active account number is about 45% of the way toward the 2024 outlook that management provided at its investor day at the start of last year. Management said it expected 30 million to 35 million active viewers by that point. While Peacock's made good progress toward that goal, it seemed extremely conservative at the time. Meanwhile, Disney and AT&T have increased their subscriber outlooks from their original guidance after successful launches.

There's some good news in there too

While Peacock's viewership numbers are nothing to get excited about, Shell and Roberts had a couple of valuable details that should make investors a bit more optimistic.

First of all, engagement among active viewers has been higher than expected. Peacock reached 1 billion total streaming hours watched recently, twice as much as it expected in year one. Roberts said the average Peacock viewer is watching about 20% more on Peacock than the average TV viewer watches NBC.

That's led Comcast to surpass the guaranteed minimum ad impressions it provided to its early sponsors for Peacock. It's even started selling some of its ad inventory at spot rates, commanding prices in line with what the company's getting for NBC Prime, Shell said. It'll open more ad inventory up for marketers in the fourth quarter after its initial sponsorship deals expire.

As a result, total revenue for Peacock came in at $91 million in the first quarter. That's a strong number considering the service generated just $100 million for all of 2020. That puts its average revenue per user in the $2.00 to $2.50 range each month, though, which means there's a long way to go for it to reach its $6.00 to $7.00 long-term expectation.

The second silver lining is that Peacock still doesn't have most of the big content titles that could drive viewership. Peacock will have a ton of content from the Olympic Games, and the company can use primetime viewership on its linear networks to promote the streaming service. It'll have another Olympic Games in February. Meanwhile, NBC's production schedule is only just recovering from COVID-19, and this will better allow for the production of a steady supply of original content for Peacock. (Peacock streams NBC series the next day.)

So there's still a lot of potential for Peacock, but the next few quarters will be crucial to keep an eye on its progress. If Shell continues to provide the detailed updates he did for the first quarter in the future, that bodes well for the financial success of the streaming service. But Comcast hasn't committed to sharing very many details for Peacock in its quarterly updates, so investors should also pay attention to what management doesn't share.

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