How to Fix Peacock

Fixing Peacock
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

The growth of Comcast streaming service Peacock appears to be stalling.

In last week’s Q3 earnings call, Comcast didn’t even provide an updated total for sign-ups. This is likely due to Comcast not giving a Q2 figure in the Q2 earnings call, instead giving one that included the first week of the Olympics in July (i.e., in Q3).

The company is notorious for never releasing any meaningful data for its streaming service with free and paid tiers. Total sign-ups itself is a meaningless statistic — imagine how large Netflix’s would be if it reported on this.

As would be expected, NBCU CEO Jeff Shell attempted to deflect analyst questions on Peacock by saying that although no one can see the latest figures, growth is fine.

NBCU also recently sought to further boost total sign-ups by asking YouTube TV to include carriage of Peacock as part of the NBCU carriage renewal. YouTube refused, leading to NBCU backing down.

The lack of an updated figure suggested that growth has continued to slow post-Olympics, even if data from app analytics firm Apptopia found a significant boost in mobile downloads after “Halloween Kills” was released on Oct. 15.

Peacock’s refusal to release meaningful metrics gives the perception that it is hardly setting the streaming world on fire (if it were, stronger success metrics than “ever signed up” would have been shared). It was hampered in 2020 by the pandemic severely impacting launch plans and never seems to have reached its potential since.

Yet this reticence is surprising given data from Apptopia. In the “Apptopia 2021 Streaming Landscape” report, Peacock performs strongly for mobile downloads in both paid and free tiers. While this only represents one viewing medium and doesn’t include TV sets, it is still indicative that Peacock does have a base to build upon.

There are several ways Comcast and NBCU could fix their streaming service and make it a serious competitor that doesn’t need to be shrouded in earnings calls. The first is committing some serious investment for big-budget originals.

Unlike other SVODs owned by TV companies, Comcast is trying to straddle both cable TV and SVOD worlds without spending significantly more on content, opting instead mostly for lower-budget reboots like “Punky Brewster” or spinoffs such as “Vanderbilt Dogs” versus attention-grabbing originals along the lines of “Dr. Death.” In a world where peak TV has been overtaken by peak streaming, having a paltry number of big-name originals isn’t going to win over many consumers.

"Arms dealing" must also come to an end. Rival media company ViacomCBS kept being called out by analysts for its strategy of selling content to other SVODs Netflix, Peacock and HBO Max instead of putting originals onto CBS All Access. That changed with the launch of Paramount+, which now sees high-end in-house content and access to the wide range of kids content kept in-house.

Unfortunately, NBCU is still providing Netflix with a treasure trove of kids content from DreamWorks Animation. This means a company with deep assets in children’s content has effectively an empty shelf in that area on its own subscription service.

Consider, too, the recent deal signed in July between Universal Pictures and Amazon's Prime Video and IMDb TV, giving those streaming services access to some of Universal’s film library and the second half of the Pay 1 window for Universal’s live-action films (Peacock has exclusive access to the first half of the Pay 1 window). This limits the appeal and movie library of Peacock to consumers and is a picture-perfect example of the current strategy of not going all-in to make Peacock a serious player.

Peacock must also lean into PAST and bolster FAST. PAST (subscriber-only linear streaming channels) is currently utilized only by AMC+ and Discovery+. Given NBCU’s rich content library and exclusive sports rights premium linear channels will counter SVOD choice fatigue and boost engagement time spent on Peacock.

NBCU has not leaned into its library as much as possible for FAST, with one of the smallest channel lineups going. To its credit, Peacock does utilize monthly pop-up channels well, ensuring there is always something new to watch on Peacock Channels, but there is scope for so much more.

Expanding the number of FAST channels both with library content and sports rights would give consumers greater choice. Sports is very underutilized on Peacock Channels, with only one channel for the English Premier League and WWE and none for NASCAR. Creating multiple channels for these (i.e., the best goals, best of WWE in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s etc.) would better use assets and help make the overall Peacock experience much more appealing to consumers.

Peacock’s NFL strategy also needs tweaking. NBCU has the rights to the NFL's "Sunday Night Football," which is free to watch for anyone on network TV. When it comes to streaming, NBCU took a different opinion and opted to put access behind the paywall. Interestingly, this is different from Fox’s approach, which is to multicast its NFC package on free streaming service Tubi at some point in the future.

With bolstering the number of total Peacock users a key aim, as well as selling maximum viewers advertising, having a consistent NFL access strategy — free on TV and streaming — will help give a big boost in the fall. Should Peacock not opt to do this and continues to underinvest while streaming rivals go big, there is a real risk that it will never rise to the potential of being the service from one of the world’s largest media companies.