Delays for Originals and Olympics Clip Peacock’s Wings

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Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

It’s gone from bad to worse for Comcast’s Peacock.

First came the delay to Peacock’s Tokyo Olympics coverage last month. Now it’s clearer than ever that Peacock won’t be at full strength until next year: The company indicated Tuesday a “significant amount” of Peacock originals would have their releases delayed until 2021 due to coronavirus’ impact on production schedules. 

Not having key content offerings is likely to hurt the Peacock’s ability to entice paid subscribers to its premium tier when it becomes available to all U.S. consumers in July, especially as many consumers have recently indicated low interest in adding a new paid video service in the near term.

In March, 51% of U.S. adults said they were “very unlikely” to subscribe to new video streaming services in the next month, a percentage that greatly eclipsed the just 7% of respondents who said it was “very likely” they would do so, per a survey by YouGov in partnership with Variety Intelligence Platform (VIP).

This is likely to hurt the appeal of Peacock to some consumers that are already knowledgeable about the product. Exclusive shows/originals tied for ranking as the third-most appealing content offering of Peacock, according to a late January 2020 survey conducted by YouGov and VIP

Meanwhile, original content was the second-most common reason consumers said they had subscribed to SVOD services in a separate June 2019 survey by Vorhaus and Manatt. 

Peacock’s broad U.S. rollout could come earlier than anticipated. Peacock chief Matt Strauss on Tuesday told reporters that the company was “evaluating” releasing Peacock broadly earlier than July 15, the original date that Comcast announced the video streamer would become available to all U.S. consumers. Peacock began rolling out today to Comcast customers who will have early access to the streamer until July.

There is some merit in getting into the video streaming market earlier in attempt to capture heightened streaming activity during the coronavirus era. Comcast’s Xfinity business experienced a 50% increase in streaming activity from February to March, which suggests there’d be a bigger potential captive audience for an earlier launching Peacock after all.

But the heightened streaming activity during the coronavirus era could also benefit Peacock’s competitors. 

It’s fair to point out that Comcast/NBCU is placing an emphasis on Peacock as an ad-supported free product, and that not getting tons of paid subscribers out of the gate shouldn’t be reason enough to decide against an early national rollout.

But it’s not like the landscape for free ad-supported video content is barren. Ad-supported video streamers are growing, with more prominent platforms in the landscape like the Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and Crackle respectively reaching 24%, 20%, and 19% of respondents surveyed by TiVo in Q4 2019.

There surely would be some room for consumers to try another free streaming option like Peacock’s free tier if it rolled out earlier, but it’s still probably better for the service to wait to have a more bulked-up arsenal of content, with things like marquee Peacock originals and Olympics programming that Comcast initially announced it would offer, that better differentiates itself from other free streamers. 

While it makes sense for certain companies in the media business to release their projects earlier as self-quarantining consumers across the U.S. demand more digital video content, NBCU’s Peacock may not be one of them.