By Helen Coster and Eva Mathews

(Reuters) – Comcast Corp is ramping up spending on its Peacock streaming service, executives said on Thursday, aiming to catch up to big media rivals in the global battle for viewers.

Unlike the majority of its rivals, Peacock offers a free, ad-supported version and two paid options: a $5-per-month tier with “light ads” and an ad-free version costing $10 per month.

In a call with investors on Thursday, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said the “vast majority” of Peacock’s paid subscribers choose the $5 tier over the $10 tier. Going forward, the company will focus its strategy around the ad-supported tiers.

It is doubling Peacock content spend to $3 billion in 2022 and plans to increase domestic content spend for Peacock to $5 billion over the next couple of years, an additional investment that will result in an earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) loss of roughly $2.5 billion. It plans to fund that investment out of NBCUniversal’s cash flows.

In the fourth quarter, Comcast brought in $778 million in revenue and lost $1.7 billion in adjusted EBITDA related to Peacock, over double the $663 million in adjusted EBITDA it lost in 2020.

The company had previously committed to spending $2 billion on Peacock content in the streaming service’s first two years.

Comcast reported that Peacock had 24.5 million monthly active U.S. accounts at the end of the year, up from over 20 million at the end of July, 9 million of which are paid subscribers. Comcast defines that metric as the number of households that watched content on Peacock during the month.

Growth in Comcast’s NBCUniversal division helped the company’s fourth-quarter revenue beat Wall Street expectations. Total revenue rose 9.5% to $30.34 billion in the quarter, beating analysts’ average estimate of $29.61 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. The company posted a 4.5% rise in cable revenue to $16.41 billion. It grew overall cable customer relationships, including broadband, video, voice and other services, 3.3% to 34.2 million accounts.

However, it only gained 212,000 broadband customers in the latest quarter, down 60.6% from the same period last year, when the company benefited from demand as the pandemic caused people to work from and seek entertainment at home. Comcast’s NBCUniversal media unit saw a 25.6% rise in revenue, driven by a recovery in the company’s theme parks division. The division had the most profitable fourth quarter in NBCUniversal’s history because domestic tourists spent more when they visited.

Net income attributable to Comcast fell to $3.06 billion, or 66 cents per share in the fourth quarter, from $3.38 billion or 73 cents per share, a year earlier. Comcast posted an adjusted earnings per share of 77 cents, above expectations for 73 cents.

The company increased its share repurchase program authorization to $10 billion.

Shares of the company were down 5.4% at $45.81 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)