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NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service debuts amid coronavirus outbreak. Will it stand out?

A sculpture outside Comcast headquarters at Rockefeller Center welcomed attendees to the company's investor presentation for its new streaming service, Peacock.
(NBCUniversal)

NBCUniversal will plunge into the competitive streaming arena Wednesday with an advertising-supported subscription service to capitalize on the surge in home viewing.

The media giant plans to make the low-cost Peacock service widely available to consumers nationwide on July 15. But it will offer an early preview Wednesday to customers of parent company Comcast, at a time when millions of Americans are staying at home to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Peacock is the latest video-on-demand service to launch within six months, following the debuts of Apple TV+ and Disney+ last fall. Quibi, the Hollywood-based short-form streaming service led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, got off to a strong start when it debuted last week.

The shelter-in-place orders have led to a sharp rise in consumption of Netflix and other streaming platforms. Experts believe the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of streaming services as a primary source of entertainment, and NBCUniversal and other traditional media companies are relieved that they already were pivoting their business to embrace the streaming trend.

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“With the majority of the country at home, the demand for news and entertainment is truly at an all-time high,” Peacock Chairman Matt Strauss said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “Many viewers are seeking out programming that is comforting, familiar and even nostalgic.”

Peacock will be stuffed with NBC-owned shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” “Law & Order” and, starting next year, “The Office,” which has been a hit on Netflix. It will feature movies from the Universal Pictures studio, including “Jurassic Park,” the animated film “Despicable Me,” classic thrillers such as “Psycho” and “The Birds,” and DreamWorks Animation hits like “Shrek.”

“The streaming world is obviously a very crowded space, but NBC’s Peacock has the advantage of being an already established brand and launching with a very strong content library,” Tal Chalozin, co-founder of Innovid, an advertising analytics firm, said in an email.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however, most original shows planned for Peacock won’t be ready by summer — or even later this year. TV production ground to a halt in mid-March and no one knows when shooting will resume.

The disruption of pilot season, which some industry vets predict may never be the same, underscores the rippling economic effects of the health crisis.

NBCUniversal also had ambitious plans to make Peacock available nationwide just days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics in July. But the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee last month postponed the Games to July 2021, depriving Peacock of a big promotional boost.

The streaming service is entering a competitive market. AT&T’s WarnerMedia plans to launch HBO Max, which will feature “Friends” and “The Sopranos,” next month.

Beginning Wednesday, Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers will be able to receive the service at no additional cost to their monthly cable bills.

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Peacock also includes NBC News segments and programs such as “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt,” and Spanish-language shows from the Telemundo network.

Live programming will be a major selling point at a time when consumers are hungry for news, executives said.

“This cultural moment that all of us recognize actually plays to our strength,” Strauss said.

This summer, Comcast plans to partner with other cable TV providers to offer the streaming services to their customers. Cox Communications, which serves Rolling Hills Estates and parts of Orange County, has already signed on. Consumers who do not have access through their cable provider still could sign up for the free Peacock service with 7,500 hours of content, or pay $4.99 a month for Peacock Premium, which will come with 15,000 hours of content, including news, sports, children’s programming and prime-time access to the network’s late-night shows from Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers.

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Unlike rivals Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+, which all offer content free of advertising, Peacock will contain commercials. But NBCUniversal has vowed to limit ads to five minutes per hour. Corporate sponsors include Verizon Communications, State Farm Insurance, Subaru, Molson Coors beverage company and L’Oreal USA.

Consumers will be able to watch ad-free for an extra $5. However, NBCUniversal is betting that most cash-strapped customers won’t mind watching a few commercials.


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