Comcast’s NBCUniversal on Thursday afternoon is unveiling a plan for new streaming service Peacock that will keep customers tied to their cable subscriptions, a strategy that stands out among Disney and WarnerMedia’s full-fledged jump into the streaming era.
Ahead of a planned presentation inside 30 Rock’s Studio 8H — the home of Saturday Night Live — NBCU revealed that Peacock will be available as a free, ad-supported service offering around 7,500 hours of programming, including a selection of classic TV series and movies, next-day streaming of some broadcast shows, Spanish-language content and a curated collection of news and sports programming.
A premium version of the service featuring double the amount of programming will be available for free with advertising for certain cable subscribers, including those signed up for Comcast. Peacock Premium’s lineup will include full seasons of originals like Mindy Kaling’s Expecting and Sam Esmail’s Battlestar Galactica reboot; early streaming of NBC’s late night lineup; next-day streaming of all current broadcast shows; and live sports including Premiere League matches and Olympics coverage.
Non-cable subscribers will have to pay a $5 monthly fee for access to the ad-supported version of Peacock Premium. It will cost an additional $5 per month to upgrade to the ad-free version of the service.
Comcast cable subscribers will have other benefits, too. The service is set to debut April 15 for Xfinity X1 and Flex customers, but won’t be available more widely for another three months, launching ahead of the Tokyo Olympics on July 15.
With Peacock, Comcast joins Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia in entering a crowded streaming landscape, one dominated by Netflix and its 158 million global members. But with its free, ad-supported offering, Peacock will offer a different value proposition for consumers, albeit one complicated by its various tiers. At a monthly fee of $10 all-in for a non-cable customer to subscribe to Peacock Premium, the company is settling for a price point squarely in the middle of cheaper services — Apple TV+ ($5) and Disney+ ($7) — and more expensive offerings — Netflix ($13), HBO Max ($15).
Peacock’s model hews most closely to that of Hulu, in which NBCU owns a minority stake. Hulu offers an ad-supported tier for $6 per month and an ad-free tier for $12 per month.
Peacock has gone through a few shuffles since outgoing NBCU chairman Steve Burke first announced plans for the service in January 2019. Bonnie Hammer, who was initially put in charge of Peacock, shifted out of the role in October to make way for Comcast veteran Matt Strauss. Hammer, who is now overseeing key Peacock supplier NBCU Content Studios, told The Hollywood Reporter in December that taking the streamer “to the next point of managing bundles or distribution deals or how it then plays out in the world was not, is not, my area of interest or expertise.”
Comcast executives expect to grow Peacock to between 30 million and 35 million active accounts by 2024. That’s a more conservative forecast than Disney and WarnerMedia, which both said they expect to have as many as 90 million subscribers within the first five years of launching their services. In the U.S., WarnerMedia projected that HBO Max would hit 50 million subscribers.
Peacock’s deals to offer Comcast and Cox subscribers its premium tier for free will give it access to a pool of 24 million potential subscribers, which should help it boost sign-ups early on. The company said it expects to strike similar deals with other cable providers in the coming months.
To lure members, Peacock will rely heavily on its mix of new original programming, classic titles and live programming. “By delivering timely and topical content like breaking news, live sports, and watercooler moments from late night, Peacock is uniquely bringing a pulse to the world of streaming that does not exist in today’s marketplace,” Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCU Digital Enterprises, said in a statement.
Among the originals that have been assembled are the novel adaptation Brave New World, the Tina Fey-produced comedy Girls5Eva, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of SNL and a reboot of Saved by the Bell. Peacock has also made an investment into and signed a first-look deal with Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud network that will see the comedian produce a stand-up special and interview series for the service.
Meanwhile, Peacock will become the home of more than 11,000 hours of classic film and TV programming, from Jurassic Park and Shrek to all seasons of The Office, which will stream exclusively on the platform after its deal with Netflix expires in 2021. In addition, for the first time, over 1,000 hours of the Dick Wolf library, including Law and Order and the Chicago shows, will be streaming in one place.
Not all of Peacock’s programming will be exclusive. It will continue to share much of its library content — including 30 Rock and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — with Hulu per the terms of a licensing deal that runs through 2024.
It’s through live programming that Peacock can stand out from other new streamers, which have focused on on-demand viewing. The service will offer live breaking-news coverage, thousands of hours of Premier League matches, broadcasts from the Ryder Cup, and live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo before they air on broadcast.
An added perk for Peacock viewers is early access to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers, which will both stream three-and-a-half hours early on the service.
“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” Burke said in a statement. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”
NBCU’s two-hour presentation kicked off Thursday afternoon with a musical performance by The Roots and announcing from Darrell Hammond. ‘We believe affordability will be critical as more subscription services are launched,” Burke told the crowd of investors and press, describing the multitier model as a “winning strategy” before handing the mic over to a rotating cast of NBC talent, from Fey to Meyers to Fallon.
Near the end of the event, Strauss revealed that NBCU will invest $2 billion into Peacock over the next two years and expects the service to become profitable by 2024. Though it will start as a U.S.-only service, the exec said that an international rollout is on the roadmap, though he didn’t discuss specific dates.
Closing out the day, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts took the stage to lend his endorsement for Peacock. “It’s been nearly a decade since my dad [Ralph J. Roberts], Steve [Burke] and I first walked into this incredible building,” he told the crowd. “It’s pretty unrecognizable right now.”
Jan. 16, 3:30 p.m. Updated with additional information from Peacock Investor Day.