Why NBCU Is Still Optimistic About Peacock Despite Mid-Pandemic, Olympics-Free Launch

Streaming service’s debut will be battered by pandemic, but execs now shifting focus towards bigger 2021

No streaming service saw its plans more greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic than NBCUniversal. It’s a small miracle that Peacock will be able to make its early mini-launch on Wednesday — just for Comcast subscribers — as well as its July 15 nationwide debut.

“Even though we now have 100% of the Peacock team working from home around the globe,” NBCU executive Matt Strauss told reporters on Tuesday, “we have been able to maintain our timeline.”

NBCU originally planned to tie Peacock’s big, national rollout to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July. That’s now the 2021 Olympics. A few months ago, Peacock executives touted an expansive originals slate that included a “Battlestar Galactica” remake, new versions of classic sitcoms “Saved by the Bell” and “Punky Brewster” and an adaptation of Aldux Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Then the pandemic shuttered all Hollywood productions, leaving Peacock’s cupboard almost bare. The ensuing “shelter-in-place” orders enacted around the world forced the people responsible for bringing the streaming service to life to adapt to a remote-work environment.

And yet, with the pandemic forcing everyone to stay inside their homes, there’s arguably never been a more opportune time to give viewers even more content to watch. Nielsen reported that over the first three weeks of March, the amount of minutes streamed was up 85% compared to last year. Comcast added that on-demand viewing was up 50% compared to a year ago.

The pandemic has forced NBCU executives to shift their thinking toward 2021. Next year — assuming the health crisis is more maintained and sports can return to the field, at least in some fashion — Peacock is set to get a massive influx of games. The expanded NFL playoff format will put an extra game on NBC, which will be simulcast on Peacock in January 2021 — assuming there’s a full season of games, of course. NBC will then have the now-2021 Tokyo Olympics that summer, followed six months later by the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing, which will have its Opening Ceremonies just days before NBC’s coverage of Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.

“What is postponed in 2020, will come back to us even bigger in 2021,” Strauss said.

But that means that 2020 will probably be a more lean year than NBCU had initially expected back in January when it unveiled Peacock at “Saturday Night Live” studio 8H in front of investors. Especially since it will have to contend with as many as eight different streaming competitors, including the newly-launched Quibi and HBO Max, which is set to roll out next month. Disney+ is quickly becoming a power player, having already amassed 50 million subscribers within its first five months.

The Olympics were supposed to give Peacock a massive (and free) promotional platform, as well as a programming peg. But now the marketing team has to rethink its strategy, which Strauss said is well underway. “We’ve already developed a revised marketing plan that recoups the vast majority of the promotional impressions that we had planned during the summer,” he said. “And this will allow us to stay the course with really little to no impact on our marketing targets in 2020.”

Unlike most other streaming services, Peacock will include advertising. Strauss said that the 18-month deals with launch partners like Capital One, L’Oreal, Molson Coors, Subaru and Verizon helped the company maintain its pre-pandemic revenue forecasts. In January, Comcast executives said they expected the service to bring in $2.5 billion in annual revenue and break even by the end of 2024, with between 30 million and 35 million active users within that same timeframe.

That would put Peacock on par with the current audience base of Hulu, which reported a little more than 30 million subscribers back in February. CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, which report their subscribers together, have just over 10 million. Disney+, which is now available in more than a dozen territories, is outperforming its own expectations, nearly reaching its five-year goal within five months. Meanwhile, Netflix has more than 60 million subscribers in the U.S. alone.

But Peacock is relying more heavily on advertising, which gives it a dual revenue stream. Peacock will offer three tiers of service, two of them buttressed by advertising.

The pandemic has also impacted the slate of Peacock’s original programming, most of which will now be rolling out in 2021, the same time popular NBC sitcom “The Office” moves over from Netflix. “This will materially limit our originals slate at launch in 2020,” Strauss admitted. “We’re all really unclear on exactly when certain things are going to go back to normal and we’re going to be able to pick up where we left off.”

One of Peacock’s buzziest projects, the adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” is “essentially done,” along with the upcoming “Psych” movie, “Lassie Come Home.” Along with those two, Strauss said the “Punky Brewster” revival and reboot of “Saved by the Bell” are still on track to debut later this year. “We feel optimistic that we can also have those available as well for 2020, in addition to a few others.”

But for the time being, Peacock will have to hope its viewers can be satisfied with early previews of “Tonight Show” and “SNL” reruns.

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • [email protected] • Twitter: @tim_bays



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