NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, will cost subscribers anywhere from absolutely nothing to $10 a month, but Comcast is hoping a mix of exclusives and bonus content will convince people to pay.
Comcast and NBCUniversal announced today that Peacock will be available in three tiers: a free option (Peacock Free) that comes with limited programming; an ad-supported complete version that is free to existing Comcast customers and $5-a-month for everyone else; and a $10-a-month ad-free subscription option that is open to anyone. That one is known as Peacock Premium.
Peacock Free consists of 7,500 hours of programming, including next-day access to current seasons of first-year NBC shows, Universal movies, and curated content such as SNL, Vault, and Family Movie Night. The two premium tiers come in at $4.99 per month with ads and $9.99 per month with no ads. Both of these tiers will include live sports and early access to late-night shows. Peacock Premium will include non-televised Premier League soccer games beginning in August.
Comcast and Cox cable subscribers will get free access to Peacock Premium with ads, or they can pay just $5 per month for an ad-free version. Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers will get access to Peacock Premium on April 15th. The streaming service will launch nationally on July 15th. This means that for some 20 million households that use Comcast’s paid TV services, Peacock will be a free service designed to give them a streaming option for some of NBCUniversal’s most iconic shows.
“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” said Steve Burke, chairman of NBCUniversal. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”
Just because Comcast is getting into the streaming game doesn’t mean the company is pivoting away from cable, though. Comcast is still a cable provider that profits from people signing up for cable. Offering a streaming service is key to remaining relevant, but the company doesn’t have the same goal as WarnerMedia or Disney, which see direct-to-consumer, subscription streaming video-on-demand offerings as the future of their companies. It’s a key component, but it’s not the entire picture. Research firm LightShed Management estimates that 80 million households still subscribe to some form of cable or satellite offering. While that’s down from approximately 100 million houses close to a decade ago, it’s still a sizable amount of people. Comcast would like it if the cord-cutting phenomenon rolled out slowly, in order for the company to keep some of those 80 million customers — even if AT&T and WarnerMedia are banking on the opposite.
Peacock is a place for Comcast to remind customers how great NBC is as a network and drive interest back to linear TV. NBC’s linear lineup is reliant on event-type TV (The Masked Singer, The Last Voice, America’s Got Talent) that draws in sizable crowds and where it’s easy to sell ads. Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos once commented that because of NBC’s event lineup that’s available through linear TV, the network should lean into that as its strength instead of investing in streaming and OTT like competitors were starting to do in an effort to compete with Netflix. Nice try, Ted.
None of this matters for average consumers who are trying to figure out what to subscribe to and what to cancel. NBCUniversal has three key strengths up its sleeve that it hopes will bring people in: sports options that could end up on Peacock (beginning with the 2020 Summer Olympics, where features and documentaries related to the Olympics will stream), one of the biggest catalogs of TV shows and movies from any network or studio, and licensing deals that keep it interesting in the face of competition.
Ask anyone with a dedicated sports network who is trying to figure out streaming: it’s complicated. Regional sports network rights make streaming every game nearly impossible (Yankees fans know), and the leagues still cling to broadcast network television. That’s why cable-cutters cram themselves into bars every Saturday and Sunday during NFL playoff season in order to catch the games.
NBCUniversal looks like it might play around with the idea of bringing some sports to Peacock. This is different from telecom services that allow fans to watch games online by signing in with their cable subscriptions. Think of it like what Disney is trying to accomplish with ESPN+: it’s not a full sports network, but it’s getting closer to what dedicated over-the-top sports streaming services like John Skipper’s DAZN are trying to do.
On the entertainment front, NBCUniversal is hoping that it can replicate part of Netflix’s early success by relying on a plethora of old shows and movies. There’s The Office (but that won’t appear on Peacock until 2021 when it leaves Netflix), Battlestar Galactica, Saved by the Bell, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Monk, and many more. Both The Office and Parks and Recreation will be Peacock exclusives, with many of the other series still available on streaming services like Hulu.
This is where “I don’t know how to watch TV anymore” comes in. Comcast and NBCUniversal used to be a part of Hulu, but Disney took over full control in 2019. As part of the deal, some NBCUniversal titles will remain on Hulu but slowly start to leave over the next few years. This includes day-after options, meaning that a new episode of a show is available to stream on Hulu after it airs on traditional cable or broadcast television.
People who use Hulu to watch Saturday Night Live on Sunday mornings may not be able to do so in three years when NBCUniversal’s deal with Hulu expires. For now, Saturday Night Live will stream on both Hulu and Peacock, with older seasons of the show only available on one. NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told investors during today’s event that NBC will get part of its Hulu content back in a non-exclusive deal immediately (like Keeping Up with the Kardashians), and in approximately two years, the company can take all of its content off Hulu.
Streaming! It’s become increasingly difficult to find everything in one place (remember the good old days of Netflix?), and Comcast understands the frustration. The “free” price tag and keeping the paid version as low as possible ($10 a month is still less than Netflix’s most popular $12.99 plan) are key to keeping subscribers happy. People will likely pay $5 or $10 a month for NBC’s back catalog as long as there are new shows, too.
Both the network and film divisions are working on exclusive titles for Peacock, including reboots of popular shows like Battlestar Galactica (from Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail), Saved by the Bell, and Punky Brewster. There may even be exclusives tied into current popular shows, like late-night episodes of The Tonight Show that move some of NBC’s digital content away from YouTube and over to Peacock where the company can control and profit even more from advertisements.
This brings us to Comcast and NBCUniversal’s final ace in the hole: licensing. NBCUniversal and Comcast own some of the most important licenses in Hollywood. The entire Harry Potter collection, for example, belongs to NBCUniversal right now. WarnerMedia licensed the rights to the franchise a while back, and it will have to wait until those expire (or a new deal is struck) before the movies can migrate over to HBO Max. Since NBCUniversal owns a few important licenses and can license its own series to other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which rely on third-party content, Peacock becomes less of a risky bet on streaming. There’s always something for the customer, with NBCUniversal being able to rotate new and older series in and out on a constant basis.
Comcast knows that Peacock isn’t going to replace Netflix for subscribers. But Comcast can use Peacock to offer something that services like Disney+ and Netflix can’t. The company is going to rely on live programming and advertisements to remind subscribers why linear television is still a good option. If all goes according to plan, Comcast will be able to boast a decently sized streaming platform and hopefully drive more interest and growth in cable TV.
And truly, nothing would be more impressive in 2020 than a streaming service that can keep cord cutters happy and maybe even convince people to head back to cable.