NBC Hopes ‘Free’ Makes Peacock Stand Out In Streaming Era

Jan 16, 2020, 7:00 PM
(Image courtesy NBC)...
(Image courtesy NBC)
(Image courtesy NBC)

NEW YORK (AP) — NBCUniversal is launching a new streaming service that will have a large part available for free, an approach it hopes will resonate with people who aren’t interested in traditional TV.

The service, Peacock, will debut April 15 for customers of Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company. Everyone else will get it July 15, just before the Olympics.

There’s a free version, a $5-a-month version with lots more stuff and a $10 option to remove ads. The prices are in line with what many rival services charge. The $5 version will be free for 24 million households that get TV subscriptions through Cox, or either TV or internet through Comcast. Those customers can pay $5 a month to remove ads.

NBCUniversal hopes to position Peacock as broader than the other major streaming services already out there. It will soon offer news, sports and reality TV along with shows and movies — just like a traditional broadcast TV network, but with fewer ads, at five minutes an hour.

“It’s a smart move for them to try to pivot into a new space that hasn’t really been tapped into yet,” said Sarah Henschel, a media analyst for IHS Markit.

Peacock’s stated ambitions for subscribers are, for now, smaller than those of rival Disney, however. And not everything is immediately going to Peacock. NBCUniversal will continue to send shows and movies it makes to other companies, too.

The influx of new streaming services from the country’s biggest tech and entertainment companies comes as people increasingly turn away from watching live network TV and cut their cable subscriptions. These new offerings model themselves on Netflix: a catalog of movies and TV shows available whenever and wherever people want to watch, for a monthly fee. They’ll have to fight for consumers’ attention and money.

All the costs for streaming services add up, and surveys suggest people don’t want to subscribe to all of them, especially with many existing streaming options already, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. That’s why NBCUniversal is emphasizing that Peacock comes with a free option. Prices for rivals range from $5 a month (Apple TV Plus and Quibi with ads) to $15 (HBO Max). Netflix’s most popular plan costs $13.

Hulu, in which Comcast is a silent minority owner for a few more years, also has ad and ad-free options, as will Quibi, an upcoming short-video streaming service that’s backed by Hollywood studios. Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus and the upcoming HBO Max from AT&T’s Warner Media don’t have ads at all, though AT&T has talked about having some in the future. None of them has a free option the way Peacock will.

Peacock will have 15,000 hours of programming, including original content, stuff from the NBC library like “The Office,” which leaves Netflix for Peacock in 2021, and shows from other studios, too, including “Two and a Half Men.” Other standout shows and movies include “Jurassic Park,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” the “Law and Order” universe and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Not all of Peacock’s videos will be exclusive.

Original shows will include a series based on a true-crime podcast that stars Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater. Peacock also plans to remake sci-fi favorite “Battlestar Galactica.” And Michael Schur, the creator of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place,” is producing a comedy called “Rutherford Falls.”

For TV shows in their first season, Peacock will let viewers watch episodes for free the day after they air. For shows that have been on longer, viewers will need to pay. The free version also offers only some of the episodes of original shows and classic favorites.

Paying subscribers will also get Premier League soccer matches unavailable on TV and late-night shows from Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers a few hours early.

The general launch is timed to the Olympics, which start July 24 in Tokyo. NBC televises them in the U.S.

Peacock will show the opening and closing ceremonies before they are televised in prime time. It will also have three daily shows with Olympics highlights and other features. NBCUniversal is making at least some of the Olympics available for free, but it didn’t immediately say how much.

Peacock will also be the exclusive streaming home to new episodes of the “Curious George” kids show and will have news programs and documentaries created for the service.

Media analyst Rich Greenfield said he considers Peacock a “digital version of a broadcast network” with a better consumer experience than traditional TV.

That recalls CBS All Access, which launched in 2014 and functions in some ways as a digital version of CBS. It remains a relatively small streamer.

Comcast will invest $2 billion in Peacock in its first two years of operation, and it predicts losing money for years. It says it’ll break even by the fifth year. It hopes to have 30 million to 35 million U.S. accounts by 2024, along with $2.5 billion in revenue. That’s small compared with Disney Plus, which is targeting 60 million to 90 million worldwide subscribers for 2024. Comcast hopes to take Peacock international down the road as well and make it available to customers of other U.S. cable companies for free.

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NBC Hopes ‘Free’ Makes Peacock Stand Out In Streaming Era