NBCUniversal’s Peacock is ready to start rolling out to Comcast cable customers starting this week as scheduled — but most of Peacock’s original series will not be hitting the streaming service until 2021.
On April 15, Comcast will launch an “early preview” of Peacock Premium ad-supported tier, available for no extra cost to some 31.5 million of the operator’s TV and broadband customers across the U.S. The streaming service will begin rolling out Tuesday to subscribers with Xfinity X1 and Flex, the video service for broadband-only customers, with Peacock slated to be fully available across Comcast’s footprint by April 30.
At launch, Peacock Premium includes more than 15,000 hours of movies and shows, including library titles like “Parks and Recreation,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and “Two and a Half Men”; movies including “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park” and “Shrek”; and exclusive early access to content from NBC’s late-night shows.
But the bulk of Peacock’s originals slate will be delayed until 2021, given the shutdown of productions with the coronavirus pandemic, said Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises. For this month’s early preview, Peacock includes kids’ originals: animated series “Where’s Waldo?” and “Cleopatra in Space” from DreamWorks Animation as well as new episodes of “Curious George.”
“The majority of our original productions have been paused,” Strauss said on a call with reporters. “This will materially limit our original slate at launch and through 2020.” A “significant amount” of those will be pushed into 2021, he added: “We’re unclear when things are exactly going to be back to normal.”
Strauss said he’s “very, very optimistic” about being able to finish production on and premiere a handful of Peacock originals in 2020, including “Brave New World,” an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel; movie spinoff “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home”; and reboots of “Punky Brewster” and “Saved by the Bell.”
Even given the disruption of COVID-19, NBCU didn’t consider postponing the initial launch of Peacock, Strauss said. “We think this is really going to add a lot of value to people looking to get additional entertainment,” he said. “Candidly, we’re even more encouraged by the demand.”
In fact, NBCU is evaluating the prospect of launching Peacock nationally sooner than July 15, although Strauss said for now that’s still the target date.
Peacock’s initial debut on Comcast will be followed by a national rollout this summer, still set for July 15, according to Strauss. At that point, Peacock will be available across mobile, web and connected-TV platforms, and as well as to subscribers of Cox Communications. In July, Comcast and Cox subs will have the option of paying $5 for an ad-free version of Peacock Premium; for others, the ad-supported Peacock Premium will be available for $4.99 per month with the ad-free version $9.99 per month. In addition, the ad-supported Peacock Free service, with about half the content of the premium version, is scheduled to go out in July.
In a memo to employees Tuesday, NBCU CEO Jeff Shell and Strauss said 2021 will be the year Peacock “takes center stage,” citing the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics and “The Office,” which will roll off Netflix at the end of this year to become exclusively available on Peacock. “We are viewing 2020 as our runway to 2021, which is the year Peacock takes center stage,” the execs wrote. “With ‘The Office’ debuting along with our originals slate in early 2021, followed by the Olympics next summer — Peacock will be unstoppable.”
Shell and Strauss also said about the Peacock strategy, “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 COVID-19).”
Strauss said NBCU and Comcast have not changed their financial projections for Peacock. Previously, they said they expect to invest $2 billion into Peacock over 2020 and 2021, with the streamer forecast to generate $2.5 billion in revenue by 2024 and break even that year with 30 million-35 million active users.
Peacock has shifted its “late-night early” strategy somewhat, perhaps after objections from NBC affiliates. For the early preview on Comcast, every day at about 9:30 pm ET, Peacock will exclusively feature segments from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” which are currently being shot from home. Previously, NBCU had said full episodes of those shows would be available early on Peacock Premium.
NBCU has lined up 10 advertisers for the Peacock launch, which it says have signed on to long-term deals: Capital One, L’Oreal USA, Molson Coors Beverage Company, Subaru of America, Verizon, Apartments.com, State Farm, Target and Unilever. The media conglomerate says Peacock will include no more than 5 minutes of ads per hour of programming, less than is typical on traditional TV networks.
Dana Strong, president of Comcast’s Xfinity Consumer Services, said she was optimistic Peacock would be well-received by the operator’s customers. “Offering Peacock Premium at no additional cost, seamlessly integrated on Xfinity X1 and Flex is another example of our commitment to provide more value, content and choice to customers,” she said.
For X1 customers, Peacock programming will be integrated throughout the guide. Comcast’s Flex customers can find Peacock movies and shows in the “New This Week,” “Free to Me,” and “Trending Now on Peacock” rows. Both X1 and Flex customers also can just say “Peacock” into their voice-enabled remote control.
Starting in May, Comcast will launch a broad marketing campaign for Peacock, including on-air spots featuring Amy Poehler and promotion and signage across platforms like xfinity.com.
According to Comcast, with the majority of the country currently stuck at home, the operator has seen a 50% increase in VOD consumption year-over-year while voice remote searches for free content up have increased nearly 250%.