When NBCUniversal executives took the stage in January to unveil streaming service Peacock, the upcoming Tokyo Olympics was a big piece of their messaging. Not only was the app’s July 15 wide launch specifically scheduled to take advantage of the global sports event set to kick off a week-and-a-half later, but the service was also going to host more than five hours of Olympics programming each day. Using the Olympics, NBCU planned “to really maximize the ongoing promotion and awareness of the service,” the Peacock chairman, Matt Strauss, declared that day from 30 Rock’s Studio 8H.
But with the International Olympic Committee’s Tuesday decision to postpone the Games amid the global coronavirus crisis, Peacock has been left without its big launchpad. Instead, it will have to rely on its massive library of classic programming — including every episode of Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights and hundreds of hours of Dick Wolf procedurals — as well as any originals that are ready, despite coronavirus-related production shutdowns, by July.
“To lose the Olympics as a launch platform makes it much higher risk that the platform is not successful at launch, especially because they’re late,” says Needham & Co. entertainment analyst Laura Martin. “They waited for the Olympics, which means they’re after HBO Max and after Disney+.”
But insiders say they aren’t particularly worried. Library content has been the cornerstone of nearly every streaming service, and Peacock — like Disney+ and HBO Max — has been busy assembling 15,000 hours of back-catalog content. What’s more, a version of the ad-supported offering will be free, meaning NBCU won’t have to ask people to pay more during a period of economic uncertainty. (Peacock Premium, which will offer access to more library programming and originals will be sold for $5 with ads and $10 without ads.)
Peacock will send out a trial balloon when it stages a soft launch for certain Comcast subscribers on April 15, offering a version of Peacock Premium that doesn’t include originals, which will roll out with the national launch. That launch will come when much of the country is still sheltering at home as part of the effort to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus, a period during which Nielsen estimates content consumption could rise by as much as 60 percent. For Peacock — which sources say is still on track to launch as planned — that could provide a crucial early boost.
“If the world were normal, they’d be worried about [losing] a launchpad and getting attention, but when you look at the levels of households utilizing television … people are watching,” says one source with knowledge of ongoing conversations within Peacock. “Their launch platform is now going to be the fact that everybody is home and wanting content.”
NBCU executives now are likely to treat Peacock’s first few months in the market as an opportunity to slowly build awareness (and a user base) ahead of a big 2021 in which it will broadcast the Super Bowl and the Olympics. That’s also when The Office will move from Netflix to Peacock and when NBCU will be able to begin pulling back shows it previously licensed to Hulu. (Reps for Peacock declined comment for this story.)
“Every marketer should always have a credible alternative to any choice that they’re making,” says Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence at media investment firm GroupM, explaining that NBCU should be able to come up with creative ways to promote the rest of its content lineup. “I don’t think that losing the Olympics as a promotional set of content necessarily impacts Peacock.”
March 27, 9:30 a.m. Updated to clarify the Peacock Premium offering that will be made available on April 15