NBC’s Peacock Streamer Will Offer "Something for Everyone," But It's Also Playing Catch-Up

Boasting 15,000 hours of content, Comcast is expected to offer its service to cable subscribers in April for free, which may give it a "meaningful advantage" in an ever more crowded landscape.
Skip Sterling

WarnerMedia unveiled its newly named HBO Max and its deep bench of 10,000 hours of programming (including Friends) in July. Disney+ showed off new footage of Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian in August. Apple executives revealed Sept. 10 that Apple TV+ will cost just $5 a month, undercutting all competitors. Amid the jostling for position among the next generation of streamers, NBCUniversal had been noticeably quiet. That changed Sept. 17 as the media giant revealed that its forthcoming U.S. service, dubbed Peacock, will be flush with 15,000 hours of programming.

New shows from Mike Schur, Lorne Michaels and Sam Esmail? Peacock will have them. Reboots of onetime hits like Battlestar Galactica and Saved by the Bell? They'll be there, too. Modern classics like The Office and Parks and Recreation? Viewers won't be able to watch them anywhere else. "We're going to be very, very broad," Peacock chief Bonnie Hammer, who oversees direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises for NBCU, reveals in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "We believe we'll have something for everyone."

The Peacock will need it in order to stand out in the increasingly crowded streaming market, especially given that its April 2020 soft launch will make it one of the last to enter customers' homes. "The thing about Peacock TV is it could and should have launched four years ago," media analyst Matthew Ball tweeted following the Peacock reveal. Instead, the service (its internal code name was Scuni, sources tell THR) will be five months behind Apple TV+ and Disney+ and will launch in the same month as HBO Max and Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg's shortform entry. Original and exclusive programming won't truly ramp up on Peacock, meanwhile, until after the 2020 Summer Olympics.

But launching late won't necessarily hamper NBCU's chances of streaming success. One trick up its sleeve is its relationship with owner Comcast, which is expected to offer an ad-supported version of Peacock for free to its cable customers. Those who don't want ads or who don't subscribe to Comcast will have the option of paying for the service. (NBCU has yet to reveal pricing and exact details of those plans.)

The tie-in with Comcast means that Peacock won't be a tried-and-true stand-alone streamer as the conglomerate weighs boosting its pay TV profits with offering a service for cord-cutters. But it also will give NBCU a built-in subscriber base from which it can grow. Comcast currently has more than 20 million subscribers in the U.S. (compared with Netflix's 60 million) who are expected to enjoy access to Peacock at launch.

"While [cable] is in secular decline, they're looking to add value to those subscribers," says LightShed Partners media analyst Rich Greenfield, who calls access to that base "a meaningful advantage."

The Summer Olympics also may prove a valuable promotional tool for Peacock, one that Hammer acknowledges will help the service play catch-up with its rivals. "Nobody has it but NBCU and Peacock," she adds. "That's where our marketing is going to fly." Whether people sign up for Peacock, however, will come down to the programming it offers.

Like Disney+ and HBO Max, Peacock is lining up a slate of originals that it hopes will pair well with what viewers have come to expect from the NBC brand. That means a new sitcom starring Ed Helms from Schur, the man behind The Good Place, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and two dramas — Battlestar Galactica and Angelyne — from Esmail, who made Mr. Robot for NBCU cable brand USA. (Angelyne is based on a THR article.)

That's one reason it was important for NBCU to strike large new overall deals with the two creators earlier this year. The company, says Esmail, has "always championed my creative vision with astute collaboration and ingenious marketing." Reboots like Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster, meanwhile, will lean on the popularity of the classic NBC shows. And all 44 past seasons of Saturday Night Live will be available to stream. "It's nostalgia-based," says one top literary agent of Peacock's early slate of originals, for those that "liked Must See TV back in the day."

Bill McGoldrick, who is overseeing Peacock programming and NBCUniversal cable brands, describes the strategy a little differently to THR. "We are looking for loud, buzzy originals that can make a name for ourselves," he says. "We're drawing on every platform and the things we know how to do well and the ways we know how to market content."

While a rival studio chief questions whether Peacock has "the same caliber" of originals as Disney+, one thing it will have that no rival will be able to compete with is news and sports programming. Though NBCU executives have been coy about their plans in both arenas, Hammer says she plans to work with her "buds in the sports department and Andy Lack and his news department" to find ways to offer topical programming. And NBC is expected to offer live programming, something that Disney+ and HBO Max have not committed to.

Now about that name. While Peacock — a nod to the broadcaster's 60-year-old rainbow-colored logo — has elicited some snickers, Greenfield suggests it is a smart move for NBCU to give the streamer its own brand identity. "The more they differentiate it from the legacy NBC businesses, the better," he says. "There's a real value to creating a new brand."

This story first appears in the Sept. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.