”We don’t necessarily have to lean as heavily on originals to drive acquisition,“ streaming service’s chief Matt Strauss tells TheWrap
Peacock isn’t betting the house on whether viewers want to travel to New London.
The NBCUniversal-backed streaming service, which finally rolls out nationwide Wednesday, is banking on something else to lure subscribers, and in the process carve out a place in the ultra-competitive streaming space: The ability for viewers to subscribe to the service for free.
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“We’re kind of playing a slightly different hand,” Matt Strauss, Chairman, Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, tells TheWrap. “We don’t necessarily have to lean as heavily on originals to drive acquisition.” Even though the originals will be reserved for Peacock’s paying customers — the service has a premium tier that starts at $4.99 a month — they’ll be used as an up-sell, rather than the bait.
“Typically, originals are used as an acquisition tool and to help establish a brand,” explains Strauss.
Netflix, the space’s biggest player, began streaming its library in 2007, but it wasn’t until “House of Cards” debuted in 2013 when it began its climb to become a Hollywood power player. Up until then, it was seen as merely an accessory to the entertainment business. The launch of “Handmaid’s Tale” made people think of Hulu as a place to watch new content, rather than catching up on next-day airings of broadcast sitcoms.
Those streamers had been around for years before they were even allowed in the same room as TV heavyweights like HBO and FX. The new class of streamers — Peacock becomes the fifth newcomer since November — are trying to crash the party on their first day.
Apple TV+ went with star power to cover up for the fact that it didn’t have a massive library of older shows and movies. The tech giant teamed up Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell for “The Morning Show” — Aniston’s first TV gig since “Friends — and featured series with Hailee Steinfeld and Jason Momoa when it debuted Nov. 1. Disney+ went franchise-heavy with “The Mandalorian,” the first-ever live-action “Star Wars” TV series, and an update to Disney Channel popular “High School Musical” film trilogy. HBO Max went smaller on the buzzy originals but still captured the rom-com crowd with Anna Kendrick’s “Love Life” and the kids’ segment with a new version of “Looney Tunes.”
Quibi spent a year grabbing pretty much every well-known filmmaker in Hollywood and convinced them to make short-form content, in part by offering a very friendly ownership deal.
Disney+ blasted out of the gate and is on track to reach its 2024 subscriber goal by the end of 2020, thanks in part to “The Mandalorian’s” ability to birth Baby Yoda and send him into the pop culture stratosphere. On the other hand, despite boasting a roster of A-list talent, Quibi tripped over the starting gate largely because its unique offering was rejected by many potential viewers. An estimated 90% of early Quibi users who signed up for a 90-day free trial within the first few days of its April 6 launch did not stick around.
Peacock’s debut slate includes the sci-fi series “Brave New World,” a sequel film to cult USA series “Psych” and comedy “Intelligence,” which stars someone well-known to NBC fans in David Schwimmer. Peacock will also feature a docuseries with Olympian Ryan Lochte and its own smattering of kids programming with “Where’s Waldo” and “Curious George.” (For a full list of what Peacock will have at launch, click here).
If there is one show Peacock hopes will break out into the pop culture zeitgeist, it’s “Brave New World,” an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s famed 1932 dystopian science fiction novel. The series imagines a future where humans are artificially born into a caste system and have zero familial or monogamous relationships. It stars “Solo” lead Alden Ehrenreich, Demi Moore, Harry Lloyd and Jessica Brown Findlay of “Downton Abbey” fame.
The series was initially developed for Syfy, before being moved to USA Network where it was handed a straight-to-series order. “We weren’t really even aware of a Peacock coming into the picture,” said “Brave New World” showrunner David Wiener.
By the time Peacock’s feathers began to fly, the series had been re-routed a third time.
“It felt like a show that would be better served for streaming,” said Bill McGoldrick, president, original content, NBCUniversal Entertainment Networks and Direct-to-Consumer. “It’s a pretty intense experience, and it’s an experience that that would probably be better to sort of binge.”
Going to streaming also allowed “Brave New World” to more R-rated, which Wiener argued was necessary to get to the point of Huxley’s novel.
“I think there was an acknowledgment by everybody that there’s no way to serve the text or serve the idea of ‘Brave New World’ without showing sex,” he said. “You’d be falling over yourself and having to do all sorts of visual gymnastics to get around a really core part of the world.”
“Brave New World” was not supposed to be the only major original for Peacock, whose launch was adversely affected by the production shutdown, as well as the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, from the coronavirus pandemic. Two others, a “Saved by the Bell” sequel series and an adaptation of Wondery’s “Dr. Death” podcast were earmarked for Wednesday’s launch.
“Saved by the Bell,” which brings back original castmembers Mario Lopez, Mark-Paul Gosselear (as the California governor), Elizabeth Berkley and Tiffani Thiessen alongside a cast of new students at Bayside High, had seven episodes in the can before filming was halted.
“That certainly would have been there at launch. That’s going to be one of the first shows we go back and finish,” McGoldrick said.
“Dr. Death” was “right on that borderline” when production was stopped, McGoldrick said.
Strauss, however, says that Peacock’s launch slate was otherwise unaffected. “Where you’re going to see the impact is the number of series that we were planning to release in the back half of 2020, that have either gotten pushed to later in the year, or going to bleed into 2021,” he said.
Some of those future series include a new “Battlestar Galactica” from Sam Esmail, a “Punky Brewster” revival and series from NBC’s stable including Jimmy Fallon, Mike Schur, Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey. But even if neither of those series becomes that big, breakout hit that every streamer chases, Peacock hopes it can still fly as high.
“I don’t think it is as important for us as it is for a pure subscription model,” McGoldrick argues. “I don’t think our model fails if we don’t have one of those.”