NBCU’s Peacock launches amid ‘significant’ Covid-19 impact

NBCUniversal (NBCU) has rolled out its new streaming service Peacock to select users in the US, but senior execs have admitted that Covid-19 has had a “significant” impact on its launch slate.

Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCU Digital Enterprises, said that when the streamer’s strategy was initially unveiled three months ago, “none of us could have imagined the unprecedented and historic turn of events.”

The vast majority of production on its originals has halted as a result of Covid-19 while plans to launch in tandem with the Olympics in Japan have been dashed after the sporting extravaganza was delayed to 2021.

Matt Strauss

Covid-19 limits originals impact

Strauss said the pandemic would “materially limit” NBCU’s slate for the rest of the year and added that a “significant” number of originals were now set to debut in 2021. The slate includes The Capture, Intelligence, Rutherford Falls and Girls5Eva, among numerous others.

Despite the hit on production, the streamer is still aiming to roll out Brave New World – an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1930s novel from Universal Cable Productions and Ambline Television – in the coming months. The service, which will become available to non-Comcast customers from 15 July, is also aiming to launch the reboots of Punky Brewster and Saved By The Bell this year, Strauss said.

“We’re unclear when exactly things are going to go back to normal and when we’ll be able to pick up where we left off on certain aspects of the original productions,” he said.

He added that he was “very, very optimistic” about launching Brave New World, which is “essentially done”, and said that NBCU is “optimistic” about Punky Brewester and Saved By The Bell being rolled out this year.

Strauss also highlighted that the streamer was exploring opportunities to commission Covid-19 related programming and access talent that NBCU had not used before but that was potentially available now because of the lockdown.

30 Rock

Leaning on library & pulling back IP

Despite the ramifications of Covid-19 on its originals slate, Peacock is still offering around 15,000 hours of content, including archive and movies such as ET and Reservoir Dogs, plus curated channels akin to ViacomCBS rival Pluto TV.

Current shows available include Law & Order: SVU, Blindspot, Superstore and New Amsterdam, while unscripted offerings range from World Of Dance and American Ninja Warrior to The Wall. Kids series include Curious George and Top Chef Jr.

A vast array of library programming is also being carried. These include Parks And Recreation, 30 Rock, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Rockford Files and Sliders, plus reality series such as Chrisley Knows Best and Hell’s Kitchen.

Talkers also make up a swathe of those 15,000 hours – including Late Night With Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – along with docuseries such as American Greed and Killer Couples.

Numerous other series will be turned over to Peacock in the coming months too, including This Is Us and Chicago PD. The US version of The Office is also set to appear on the streamer once NBCU’s deal with Netflix runs out next year.

Strauss alluded to “certain milestones” in his call yesterday, admitting that there are “opportunities to have content back on Peacock either non-exclusively or exclusively.” The company is winding down some deals including an agreement with Hulu, but Strauss said NBCU’s “ambitions” for Peacock would only grow.

“In many ways, it’s where the future for our business is, so you’ll hear us continue to discuss additional content that we’ll want to make available on Peacock over time.”

The Office

Opening up availability & ad stability

While NBCU has been hampered in launching Peacock without originals and the Olympics, it is set to benefit from the uptick in OTT viewing. Comcast’s on-demand viewing is up 50% year-on-year, while NBCU said its advertising partners and projectiosn for Peacock remained in place.

At present, the streamer is only available to customers of the Xfinity X1 and Flex services, owned by the US telco giant and NBCU parent, but it will be made available to others from 15 July.

The company has also hedged its bets on pricing, offering a free, ad-supported option that offers a cut-down 7,500 hours of programming. This includes next-day access to current seasons of newly broadcast series as well as classic shows.

Peacock Premium, bundled to 24 million Comcast subscribers and providing a sizeable boost towards its 2024 ambition of 30-35 million active accounts, will offer the full 15,000 hours of content and cost $4.99 for non-bundled customers.

Then there’s the premium option, which allows existing customers to upgrade to an ad-free version for an additional $5.00 per month (meaning any customer can purchase the ad-free experience directly for $9.99 per month).

The Wall

Preparing for 2021

In a note to staff, Strauss and NBCU CEO Jeff Shell praised staff for the launch, including those at UK-based Sky, whose platform Peacock uses.

“When you look at the product we are launching today, it is hard to believe Peacock was conceived just a little over a year ago,” the duo wrote. “Fortunately, we hit the ground running by drawing on some of the resources of Sky – tapping into their streaming expertise as well as the technology of Now TV.

“With much of the country hunkered down at home right now, demand for entertainment and news is at an all-time high. Our unique strategy to offer a free service with limited commercials that leans heavily into library titles and topical content, feels like just what every American wants right now.

“We have said from the beginning that this is a marathon not a sprint. While we are launching with a strong array of news and entertainment offerings, much more content will be on the platform down the road, including our original productions and many more sporting events (which are delayed in the wake of Cocvid-19). The product itself is in its beginning phase and will undergo continuous updates and enhancements.

“We are viewing 2020 as our runway to 2021, which is the year Peacock takes center stage. With The Office debuting along with our originals slate in early 2021, followed by the Olympics next summer – Peacock will be unstoppable.”

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