Peacock Has Promise, but Streaming Service Could Take Time to Spread Its Wings

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NBCUniversal finally took the wraps off Peacock at its investor day Thursday, sharing details about the streaming service’s pricing (a three-tiered structure, ranging from $0-$10 monthly), launch date (an April 15 soft launch for Xfinity subscribers, July 15 nationally) and advertising (several new ad formats and a handful of brand sponsors).

While the presentation was informative and entertaining—much like at NBCU’s upfront events, there were appearances from top talent like Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Tina Fey and Lester Holt—it also raised new questions about Peacock and how it will stack up against established and upstart streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and HBO Max.

Here’s our top takeaways about Peacock coming out of investor day—and why the service will likely take longer to spread its wings than other streaming rivals.

Free? Not exactly…

The biggest investor day theme was Peacock’s price: free. The point was driven home throughout the presentation with lines like “free as a bird,” “the best things in life are free,” and “the low, low price of free.” Here’s one they left out: “You get what you pay for.”

The Peacock Free tier is more like Peacock Lite: It contains only half the library of Peacock Premium (which costs $5 a month; the ad-free version is an additional $5 on top of that), with only “select” episodes of the top-tier stuff like original Peacock series and tentpole library shows like The Office. It calls to mind Hulu’s free tier before that company moved to a subscription-only model in 2016.

Of course, NBCU wants Peacock Premium to become a free product, which will already be the case with Comcast video and broadbrand-only subscribers, and Cox subscribers (24 million in all). NBCU chairman Steve Burke said he hopes to convince other cable companies to also offer Peacock Premium for free; if he’s unsuccessful, he’ll pursue something like Verizon’s deal to offer Disney+ free for a year to some of its subscribers, which he called “a very attractive model.” Peacock’s future could hinge on how many of those Peacock Premium deals the company is able to make, as Peacock Free doesn’t look to be an enticing enough offering on its own.

The future of streaming looks at lot like… linear

Unlike many other SVOD services, Peacock will try to replicate the experience of watching linear TV. The service will be “always on,” and video will begin playing as soon as viewers turn on the app, which will help it entice “lean back” viewers who just want to crash in front of the TV and aren’t sure what they want to watch (which NBCU says is 35% of all viewers).

In addition to its on-demand offering, NBCUniversal will be “creating dozens of linear channels” for Peacock, said Peacock chief Matt Strauss, including live news, Law & Order and Family Movie Night, describing it as “like a channel on steroids.” The format looks very similar to free ad-supported streaming services like ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV, which currently boasts 250+ channels.

While the approach may serve as comfort food for TV grid devotees, the “always on” approach could be off-putting to those who prefer to make their own decisions about what to watch.

The July delay could be costly

For months, Peacock has been touting an April launch, the same month as Quibi’s rollout, and a month ahead of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max debut. But it turns out the April 15 premiere will be more of a beta test, with only Xfinity X1 and Flex customers receiving “early bird access.” The national launch now won’t occur until three months later, on July 15, two months after HBO Max and a full eight months after Apple TV+ and Disney+ hit the market. That means Peacock will be bringing up the rear among major streaming services, which will make standing out in the space much harder than if it had stuck to its original April plan.

Look out, Hulu and Xandr

Given that only a handful of major SVOD services are ad-supported—including Hulu and CBS All Access—NBCUniversal execs were not shy about seeking the biggest piece of the ad-supported streaming revenue pie.

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