But the future of television is streaming, and Comcast is determined not to be left behind.
Comcast has shifted its strategy in recent years to focus on its growing broadband internet business, starting Peacock as part of that effort. The ad-supported service, which is free but includes a paid tier, has drawn at least 22 million subscribers and now outpaces Comcast’s more traditional cable video business, which has 19 million subscribers.
NBCUniversal has already moved most of its Premier League broadcasts to Peacock, and adding more sports could give the company more leverage when negotiating bundling deals with other broadband services.
The decision will have major ramifications for a number of upcoming rights negotiations.
For the past decade NBCUniversal has paid an average of $200 million annually to be the sole national broadcaster of the N.H.L. in the United States, with most of those games appearing on NBCSN. But that deal expires after this season, and NBC’s agreement with the English Premier League expires a year later, in 2022.
One question that is likely to come up in future negotiations is whether NBCUniversal can find enough airtime on NBC and USA Network to ensure those leagues and others plenty of games on traditional television — which retains the widest reach — or if the leagues can be sold on the virtues of Peacock, which is still a relatively niche streaming service.
Peacock is available to Comcast customers for free, but the company is also making it available to other broadband providers. Most cable operators, such as Charter and Cox, now rely on broadband business for growth and have been bundling streaming services such as Netflix into their internet packages. The cable operators take a fee from the streaming platforms in this arrangement.
For the last two decades, television networks have needed cable sports channels to serve as repositories for the overflow of game broadcasts they have the rights to. ESPN broadcasts so many games that it now has nine cable channels to show them all. But one streaming service can show an infinite number of simultaneous games, making obsolete the main utility of cable sports channels.
While entertainment programming has moved to streaming services in droves, sports has lagged, with the biggest leagues and events still appearing on traditional network television but the bulk of the games on cable. Only the smallest leagues have the majority of their programming available on streaming platforms — which, perhaps, makes them the most forward-thinking.
Edmund Lee contributed reporting.