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NBCUniversal’s new video service, Peacock, rolled out nationally Wednesday but was unavailable for a key segment of the U.S. population: people who stream on Roku or Amazon devices.
The entertainment conglomerate has yet to solidify deals with the two tech firms to bring Peacock, with its 20,000 hours of TV shows and movies, to their platforms. At stake is NBCU’s ability to reach the biggest possible audience with Peacock, for which it hopes to attract between 30 million and 35 million subscribers by 2024.
Roku and Amazon, which operates the Fire TV platform, control around 70 percent of the connected TV market combined, according to a 2019 report from Parks Associates. Roku, which sells set-top boxes, streaming sticks and connected TVs, is the largest player with nearly 40 percent of the market.
Peacock is available on many other streaming platforms, including Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but those products are used by a much smaller slice of streamers. It can also be accessed via mobile devices and web browsers.
NBCU has some leverage thanks to a pair of deals it struck with Cox and parent company Comcast to offer the premium version of Peacock, which retails for $5 per month, to their customers for free. That gives the streamer immediate access to 24 million potential subscribers.
“We built the Peacock model anticipating that, right out of the gate, we may not be on every platform,” Peacock chairman Matt Strauss told THR ahead of the service’s launch.
Still, Peacock would be on both Roku and Amazon devices if NBCU could get the deals done. Sources familiar with the situation say the negotiations are held up over a few points, including who controls Peacock’s advertising inventory and user experience. Roku is said to be asking for a portion of the inventory on Peacock, which has promised to run five minutes or less of ads per hour. Amazon, meanwhile, wants to sell Peacock through its Channels service, the sources said, which would give it greater control over the streaming experience and access to valuable subscriber data. (Disney+, which launched in November 2019, is not sold through Channels.)
When asked for comment, a Roku spokesman responded with a statement that suggested its talks with Peacock are stalled over its ad-sharing terms, which it calls “reasonable and standard industry terms.” The statement continues, “We want to bring Peacock to our large customer base of avid streamers and know it would benefit greatly from the scale and content marketing capabilities available with distribution on our platform. Unfortunately, Comcast is trying to launch a primarily ad-supported business while refusing to share in the ad model with platform partners. This shows a basic misunderstanding of what drives success in today’s modern streaming world where successful publishers collaborate on advertising and achieve strong results by leaning into the unique tools we offer.”
A representative for Amazon declined to comment.
The companies are currently locked in a similar tussle with WarnerMedia over the distribution of HBO Max, which also was not available on Roku and Amazon platforms when it launched at the end of May. WarnerMedia had planned to upgrade all existing HBO and HBO Now subscribers to HBO Max, but many of them can’t access the new app on their Roku and Amazon devices.
Roku and Amazon have leverage because they control a piece of the market that has become increasingly valuable to traditional entertainment conglomerates as linear TV declines and streaming grows. As these deals become more common, they want to set themselves up for long-term financial success. Roku wants to continue to grow its platform business, which brings in more than double the revenue of its device sales business, and Amazon wants to maintain its Channels offering as a destination for premium video services like HBO, Showtime and CBS All Access.
The standoff between some streaming services and distributors are not dissimilar to the battles between cable companies and TV networks over carriage deals. With Roku and Amazon deals not looking imminent, Peacock has begun using the hashtag #FreetheBird on social media when customers ask why the service isn’t available on those devices. “People who’ve purchased these devices have done so on the promise that they’re going to get access to apps,” Strauss said. “I don’t know if it’s fully appreciated that if Peacock is not available on a platform, it’s not because we didn’t make it available and it’s not because we didn’t make it available for free.”
1:15 p.m. Updated with comment from Roku.
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