The showcase event at 4 PM ET at NBCU’s home base of 30 Rock — whose plaza features a flower-bedecked, illuminated, 40-foot peacock topiary/sculpture — will aim to address a host of strategic and logistical questions. One theme appears clear based on the buildup: Compared with Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple, all recent entrants into the streaming derby (with Warner’s HBO Max arriving in May), Peacock reflects somewhat more conservative goals.
Last October, NBCU chairman Steve Burke said on Comcast’s quarterly earnings call that the company’s “approach is different. It fits the strengths and characteristics of our company well.”
While it will still be powered by $2 billion in content spending and boast marquee titles like The Office (currently one of Netflix’s most popular shows), it doesn’t necessarily represent as much of a game-change as rival services. Comcast and NBCU execs have said throughout the past few months that they will continue to license out certain programming to third parties, such as Universal films to HBO.
In terms of distribution of Peacock, the existing footprint of Comcast and Sky in Europe will be the initial target, executives have said. At the presentation, one of the top questions for Wall Street analysts will be about which non-Comcast customers will be able to get Peacock from Day 1.
Pricing will be another key variable. Most initial speculation has centered on three levels of Peacock service — a bare-bones version that would be free for Comcast subscribers, or even to a broader population; an ad-supported middle tier that would feature a full lineup of shows; and an ad-free top level. Pricing for the middle and top tiers is expected to come in at around $5 and $10 a month, respectively.
Comparing prices for streaming is a bit of a fruitless exercise given how different they all are. Apple TV+, which has a batch of originals but no library, is $5 a month but free for anyone buying new Apple devices. Disney has come in at $7 for Disney+, sweetening the pot with bundles with Hulu and Verizon wireless subscriptions. HBO Max is at the high end at $15, but it includes all of the current HBO offering, which is at $15.
Advertising revenue will enable Comcast and NBCU to rely a bit less on subscriptions, roughly in the manner of the basic tiers of Hulu or CBS All Access. While not at the level of top players in the legacy TV ad business, which remains worth north of $70 billion in annual revenue, streaming ads are a burgeoning space, and many brands appear willing to spend to occupy space in streaming. NBCU ad chief Linda Yaccarino has been a key spokesperson for Peacock and led a panel at CES last week in advance of today’s investor presentation.
Programming-wise, some major announcements are expected, but the overall volume level may ramp over time. Uber-producer Dick Wolf’s long relationship with NBC is expected to factor into a major deal involving multiple shows, but they may be shared with other services. Hulu still has U.S. streaming rights to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for example.
As with other titles, Comcast’s long-term stake in Hulu will play a factor in how the offering is put together. While Disney seized operational control of Hulu in 2019, Comcast remains a financial participant in the streaming entity through 2024 and can begin to pull titles off of Hulu in late 2022.
“In order to hit with a splash, they’re going to want to show consumers what they have that’s worth signing up for,” said Andrew Hurwitz, managing partner at law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz and a seasoned negotiator of streaming deals. “We don’t know yet where Peacock is going to fit. To be seen, not clear yet how much buying they’re going to do.”
The Summer Olympics in Tokyo will provide a massive marketing opportunity for Peacock, and NBC’s long-term Olympics relationship is expected to factor into today’s presentation.
On the executive front, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for Peacock, far more so than at the comparatively stable Comcast in general. Burke, who presided over the conception of Peacock, revealed last month that he is not going to extend his contract when it expires in August. He has already passed the CEO baton to Jeff Shell. Before setting plans to exit, Burke made a significant switch in the team running Peacock, handing the reins to Matt Strauss, a veteran of Comcast Cable and tech innovations like the Xfinity pay-TV platform. Bonnie Hammer, the longtime cable impresario, had been at the helm of Peacock for several months but has moved into a newly created studio production oversight role.
One of Strauss’ main accomplishments has been the rollout of Flex, a streaming bundle given to customers at no cost. Peacock is expected to be a key part of Flex. An important tool in Strauss’ toolbox is Sky, which Comcast acquired for $40 billion, in large part because of the excellence of its streaming operation, whose executive team and technology are being used for Peacock.
Given the scale and narrative behind the Sky deal, which followed a bidding war with Disney, a report just before the New Year that Comcast is in talks to buy Xumo came as a surprise to some observers. Xumo is one of the leading ad-supported video on demand outlets, smaller than but comparable to Pluto, which Viacom bought for $340 million in 2019. It remains unclear if Xumo would be a “spare-parts” acquisition or something that would be plugged directly into Peacock. Comcast has not commented on the reports of the negotiations.
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