Thursday, July 16, 2020, 12:30 PM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Peacock launched broadly yesterday, though as a Comcast Xfinity broadband subscriber, I’ve had access to it for several months using my Flex device. I’ve spent a bunch of time with it and have been quite impressed. That the Peacock team put it together during the pandemic is quite a feat.
Some of the highlights to me are the very strong UI, the comfort food of popular programs like ’30 Rock,” “Parks and Rec,” “SNL,” and others, plus plenty of movies, the modest ad load of 5 minutes max per hour and the “Channels” which are about 30 virtual linear networks sorted into a traditional program grid.
As I’ve spent time with Peacock and followed the pre-launch coverage it’s become apparent how many different roles Peacock is poised to play for NBCU and its parent Comcast. Here’s a quick rundown:
Ad innovator - Perhaps most prominently, Peacock is a bid by NBCU to appeal to advertisers with targeted, low-clutter, high value inventory. Hulu and others have proven the value of AVOD audiences, and with its even lighter ad load, NBCU is running a similar playbook. Connected TV premium ad inventory remains the most desirable and scarce part of the TV landscape; Peacock belatedly gives NBCU an opportunity to participate.
Subscription driver - Peacock has strongly emphasized its free tier of service, but there’s no doubt that as more originals are added promotions will focus on upgrading to one of the 2 subscription options (Peacock Premium, with ads, for $5/month or Peacock Premium Plus, without ads, for $10/month). SVOD is a real battleground but Peacock is going to be a relatively inexpensive option. Subscriptions are an important revenue source for NBCU as cord-cutting continues and pay-TV affiliate revenue shrinks.
Cord-saver - By bundling Peacock Premium (the full 20K hours of programming) for free for Xfinity TV and Xfinity broadband subscribers, Comcast is giving the equivalent of a $5 per month bonus to subscribers, helping preserve these relationships. Over time, as there’s more must-see original programming on Peacock, some percentage of Xfinity TV and Xfinity broadband subscribers will retain these services simply to maintain access to Peacock’s new programs (on top of its library).
Device competitor - Peacock’s inability to strike deals with Amazon and Roku, which represent around 70% of CTVs, is a reminder that all these new direct-to-consumer services don’t really have unfettered access to audiences. Not long ago Comcast made a smart decision to relax its approach to Flex - giving one to ALL broadband subs, not just those with a rented Comcast gateway. Now Peacock is helping reinforce Flex’s value. It provides access to all the big SVOD services (and even Sling TV). If you’re an Xfinity broadband subscriber it preempts having to buy a streaming device or new smart TV, and it gives you Peacock access. Importantly it gives Comcast some measure of control over reaching CTV audiences.
Talent magnet - One facet of the “streaming wars” is the intense chase for A list talent. For the talent, it’s more than just the insane dollars being thrown around, it’s also creative freedom and desire to build viewer relationships as cord-cutting soars. Peacock gives NBCU a new card to play in these talks beyond broadcast and cable. Peacock has the example of CBS and All Access to follow.
Wall Street lever - Ever since Netflix became a Wall Street darling, every other media company has tried to get a little of the OTT pixie dust for itself. Peacock won’t be a meaningful revenue or profit driver for NBCU or Comcast any time soon, but it is a signal that at least the companies are aggressively pursuing OTT. This is a long overdue lever to be pulled which has been delayed due to Comcast’s deep pay-TV DNA. As Comcast has changed its Wall Street story to be more broadband-focused having an SVOD/AVOD play has become even more compelling.
Of course to succeed with any or all of the above Peacock has to deliver a great viewer experience. Top of the to-do list is getting deals with Amazon and Roku, where millions of viewers now hang out during prime time. No SVOD or AVOD service can fully succeed without distribution to such a large part of the CTV market. Yesterday some early users objected because Peacock didn’t support the workaround of connecting their computers via HDMI to their TVs. So that needs to be addressed too. Outside of distribution, Peacock needs more originals, same as Disney+, Apple TV+ and everyone else (except Netflix).
Overall, Peacock looks like a strong strategic bet by NBCU and Comcast - it’s going to play a number of important roles. If Peacock had launched 2-3 years earlier it would have faced a far less competitive environment and gotten off to a faster start. But there’s still plenty of room for it to succeed and is well worth keeping an eye on.