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Peacock Faces Challenges in an Unprecedentedly Saturated Streaming Market — Analysis

NBCUniversal's new streaming services boasts a free tier and daily news and sports programming, but will that be enough to help it stand out?




Peacock marks the last, but not the least, of 2020’s major streaming service debuts. NBCUniversal’s big-money platform launched nationally today and, though it offers a wealth of head-turning content from the conglomerate’s film and television portfolios, as well as a variety of upcoming originals, Peacock has its work cut out for it in an incredibly competitive market.

The problem is that same strength holds true for most of the industry’s streaming services, both new and old, and Peacock’s late launch does it no particular favors. Peacock boasts a wide range of popular titles such as “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Saturday Night Live,” while “The Office” will hit the platform next year. The number of recent headlines about companies paying millions to secure distribution rights to enduringly popular content suggests that Peacock’s exclusive streaming of those aforementioned comedies could be a considerable draw, but the same could be said for its competitors. (See: the recently-launched HBO Max, which streams “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory,” or Disney+ and its myriad of Disney-owned films.)

So, is Peacock’s library of older content enticing enough to draw in prospective subscribers (or get enough people to use the free, ad-supported version)? That depends on how many of these standout Peacock titles appeal to consumers.

And then there are the original films and series, which are the things that’ll keep consumers coming back to Peacock in the long-term. Peacock launched with nine originals, which is more new day-one content than was offered by competitors such as Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max. Those originals include the “Brave New World” series and feature film “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home,” and though the former has been billed as Peacock’s tentpole launch title, most reviews have been mixed at best — IndieWire’s Ben Travers was a notable exception; his review praises the series’ timely updates to Aldous Huxley’s original dystopian novel. Good or not, “Brave New World” is unlikely to dominate the entertainment landscape like “The Mandalorian” did when the popular show premiered alongside Disney+ last year.

Peacock is promising a variety of interesting originals in the future (though the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means that most upcoming titles don’t have firm release dates), such as the quirky “Angelyne” and a “Battlestar Galactica” reboot. But again, the same can be said for Peacock’s competitors: Apple TV+ is beginning to invest in films featuring A-list names such as Tom Hanks and Martin Scorsese, HBO Max has a staggering variety of projects in the works from celebrated creators and actors, and Disney+ will exclusively stream television series from the all-important Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises.

Content aside, Peacock’s primary difference from competing streamers is its pricing model. Peacock is available in several tiers, including a free, ad-supported version that features less content (and very limited access to Peacock’s originals). The $4.99 version of Peacock Premium boasts all the content but still has ads, while the $9.99 version of Peacock Premium is ad-free.

NBCUniversal chief executive Matt Strauss recently told Variety that “Peacock’s greatest potential lies in the free-to-watch tier.” While there’s potential in a content-rich, ad-supported streamer that is free or competitively priced — most of the market’s streaming services cost more than Peacock’s most expensive price point — Strauss’ take also throws the value of Peacock’s originals into question, given that only a few episodes of Peacock’s originals are available on the free tier. Still, Peacock promises that there will be no more than five minutes of commercials per hour, which could be a strong draw for consumers on a budget.

Peacock also stands out for its daily news, sports, and late-night programming. The platform is updated daily with new content from NBC News outlets, NBC Sports, and late-night shows from Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. Peacock was slated to stream the 2020 Olympics, which could’ve been a huge draw, but that marketing opportunity was lost when the event was cancelled. Regardless, Peacock could become the streaming service for news and sports programming if consumers are interested in that relatively unmined territory.

That said, it’s worth noting that there are already signs that Peacock’s corporate synergy isn’t perfect: Vulture reported that most NBC stations have refused to air the upcoming “30 Rock” reunion because the special is allegedly too much of a promotion for Peacock, which station owners fear could siphon viewers away from linear TV. An NBCUniversal representative confirmed to IndieWire that some NBC affiliates will not air the special but declined further comment.

As for availability, Peacock can be used on most of the usual platforms, but Roku and Amazon Fire TV are notable exceptions. NBCUniversal failed to ink deals with those entities for Peacock’s launch. HBO Max, which launched in late May, is also still unavailable on those platforms, as well, and it became one of the major criticisms facing WarnerMedia’s service.

The timeframe for Peacock’s availability on Roku and Amazon Fire TV is TBD, as are the release dates of most of its upcoming originals. Peacock has launched in an unprecedentedly saturated streaming industry that has been made more complicated by the ongoing pandemic. But for all of its challenges, it’s hard to argue against free bingeing of so many celebrated shows. Peacock’s free, ad-supported tier and array of topical programming is largely untested in the industry, and though it’s hard to imagine that NBCUniversal’s new streaming service will immediately become the industry leader, it would also be unwise to count this bird out before it has a chance to unfurl its feathers.

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