Peacock Execs Say Pandemic Has Helped More Than Hurt Streaming Service: “No Material Changes” To Financial Guidance

By Dade Hayes, Jill Goldsmith

Two of the top executives in charge of Peacock, the streaming service launching Wednesday for Comcast subscribers, said it remains on track to hit financial and usage targets despite the massive disruption of COVID-19.

Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises and Dana Strong, president of Xfinity consumer services for Comcast Cable, said there has been “no material change” to initial financial guidance. At an investor day in January, NBCU and Comcast execs issued a forecast for 30 to 35 million active users of Peacock by 2024, with the service breaking even by that time.

Peacock is joining an increasingly crowded streaming field, with Disney, Apple and Quibi having launched direct-to-consumer initiatives in the past few months. WarnerMedia is set to debut HBO Max in May, capping a flurry of efforts, including by the three largest traditional media companies, to slow the momentum of incumbents like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

All of the new services are scrambling to address the impact of the virus production freeze, which Strauss conceded will force a “significant” number of originals to be pushed into 2021. The Office, a major library property, will also come online next year after its run on Netflix has concluded. While Peacock’s premium tier debuts tomorrow with some 15,000 hours of programming, virtually all of that will be either linear staples like late-night shows (airing in prime time, in a significant new wrinkle) or library fare.

On Tuesday, Strauss and Strong delivered a press briefing lasting a bit less than an hour, acknowledging some of the challenges but painting an optimistic picture given the level of on-demand viewing. They described several significant pivots they had to make due to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and the shutdown of production, the suspension of live sports, among other factors. Given the surge in on-demand viewing — up 50% year-over-year and two hours more per day per household, according to Comcast — some had inquired about whether Comcast might speed up the nationwide rollout on July 15.

“We always planned to launch Peacock in two phases,” Strauss said. Accelerating the national rollout is “something we’re evaluating. We certainly see the value,” Strauss said, but with 100% of Peacock’s workforce working from home, “July 15 is still the target date.” The company “has never wavered with our desire to bring this product to market,” he added. “If anything, we feel even more strongly that we need to bring this service to market and we feel that this will add a lot of value to people looking for additional options.”

A free, ad-supported basic offering will be nationally available on July 15, and Peacock Premium, which has twice the amount of content, will be available for $5 a month, or $10 for an ad-free version. In addition to Comcast’s X1 and Xfinity Flex platforms, Peacock Premium will also be offered free to Cox subscribers.

In a video demo sent prior to the audio-only press briefing, Strauss said the objective of Peacock was to “take you immediately into watching TV.” This full-screen rolling-stock video that begins playing when the app is opened gives a “pulse” to streaming, Strauss said, and is “already a big differentiator” between Peacock and other streaming services in the market.

Another standout feature are curated channels dedicated to shows like Saturday Night Live or American Greed as well as a range of other genre and show-specific interests. There will be 20 such channels at launch, with more than 75 expected by the end of 2020. “We see these channels as a sandbox,” Strauss said, with personalization a key feature. Pluto TV, an ad-supported streaming outlet acquired by Viacom in early 2019, has rolled out dozens of similar channels tied to ViacomCBS properties.

No new distribution deals have been announced for Peacock in recent weeks beyond the one with Cox. Disney’s go-to-market strategy with Disney+ depended heavily on a free trial offered by Verizon. Quibi, similarly, set a deal with T-Mobile and Apple leveraged its billion-plus mobile and connected devices and a 12-months-free offer for Apple customers.

Strauss expressed optimism about the chance that it will be bundled for no cost through pay-TV providers given positive feedback from operators in recent months. “It is certainly our ambition … to bundle in Peacock with other distributors, similar to what we’ve been able to do with Comcast and Cox,” he said. “Some of these [discussions] are pretty active and some of them are going to take place over time, but certainly over the next few months” more deals are likely.

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