NBCUniversal will draw on its news, sports, cable unscripted and Spanish-language divisions to provide an array of programming beyond scripted series for the launch of the streaming platform that has been dubbed Peacock.
Nine months after she was tapped to lead NBCUniversal’s charge into the streaming wars, Bonnie Hammer on Tuesday offered the first glimpse into the programming vision for the venture, targeted for launch in April.
Hammer, NBCU’s longtime cable entertainment chief who was upped to chairman of direct to consumer and digital enterprises in January, revealed that programming plans for the advertising-supported streamer will involve more contributions from NBCUniversal’s in-house content engines than were previously disclosed. NBCU plans a big consumer marketing push for Peacock to kick in as NBCU mounts cross-platform coverage from July 24-Aug. 9 of the 2020 summer Olympic games in Tokyo.
“We’re going to be scaling toward the Olympics,” Hammer said. “We’ll make a lot of noise about what we’re doing.”
Hammer said the guiding principle of content development for Peacock was to assemble a mix of “timely and timeless” programming, meaning an emphasis on news and sports-related fare with the urgency to drive live viewing, coupled with a deep library of TV classics to draw binge-watchers.
Augmenting the original and library TV series are movies from the Universal, Focus Features, Illumination and DreamWorks Animation archives, as well as Spanish-language library titles from Telemundo. There will also be a number of original and library unscripted and lifestyle programs that draw on existing NBCU talent and resources. For example, Amber Ruffin, writer and breakout comedian from NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” will host a weekly series, “The Amber Ruffin Show,” featuring her “smart and silly take on the week.”
“The whole conceit was built around being timely and timeless and really taking advantage of all the assets we have inside the company,” Hammer told Variety. “We are clearly connected to news and sports and celebrity news and on and on. There’s so much that we can put on that is timely that comes out of our news group, sports group, our E! operation.”
Hammer’s team settled on Peacock as a moniker after consider all sorts of acronyms and made-up words, Hammer said.
“It was right there in front of our noses,” Hammer said. “It’s tied to the company’s legacy but not so on the nose that it will limit us in what’s on the service. We love it and the marketing team is having a ball designing it.”
To fortify Peacock, NBCUniversal has reclaimed what is believed to be one of the most popular library series in the streaming VOD arena, “The Office.” The NBCU-produced series that aired on NBC from 2005 to 2013 will relocate to Peacock from Netflix January 2021. It has also licensed long-running favorites from outside studios, including a deal with Sony Pictures TV for the rights to “Married With Children” and “The King of Queens.”
Details of how other news, sports and unscripted programming will be showcased on Peacock are still being sorted out, Hammer said.
For original scripted programming, Hammer used the lens of looking for shows that would be a tonal fit with the biggest titles in the NBCUniversal archives. In comedy, that means “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” which encouraged Hammer to nab a new project, “Rutherford Falls,” from “Office” and “Parks and Rec” alum Mike Schur and “Office” star Ed Helms.
In drama, Hammer’s team looked for shows in the spirit of library workhorses such as “House,” “Monk” and “Psych.” A smattering of reboots was also a no-brainer, given the IP riches that NBCU has its vault. Peacock will have the third iteration of “Battlestar Galactica,” this time with “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail on board to oversee, “which takes it to another level,” in Hammer’s view. Revivals of “Saved By the Bell” and “Punky Brewster” are natural vehicles to tap in to 1980s and ’90s nostalgia and offer contemporary spins on vintage NBCUniversal IP.
Peacock at present has about 500 employees, mostly working on programming, marketing and technical development efforts. Details of pricing and distribution plans will be unveiled down the road. Hammer said the technical and design teams working on the project are focused on making the Peacock interface “as easy to use as possible and super-super consumer friendly.”
Hammer had been NBCUniversal’s longtime cable entertainment leader before NBCU chief executive Steve Burke tapped her to head direct to consumer efforts. NBCUniversal is taking a different tack from most of its major rivals by focusing on an ad-supported service. NBCU plans to make Peacock available for free via authentication for those who already pay a monthly MVPD bill — no surprise for the studio owned by cable giant Comcast — but it will also sell the package to non-MVPD subscribers for a monthly fee.
Disney made an aggressive move to price its well-stocked Disney Plus service (bowing Nov. 12) at $5.99 a month; last week Apple came in at $4.99 for a more limited number of shows launching Nov. 1. WarnerMedia’s pending HBO Max is expected to be somewhere north of $15 a month given that it has to incorporate the standing pricetag of $14-$15 a month for HBO service.
Hammer said her entry into the streaming wars, after Burke realigned NBCU’s top management in January, has been an invigorating reminder of her formative years in the early days of original cable programming.
“It’s exciting,” Hammer said. “It takes me back to my roots of starting at the ground floor of something. But it has the incredible advantage of working across the company with some of the best and the brightest in all divisions.”
(Pictured: “The Office”)