Another streaming video service? That's the plan from Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), or more specifically, its NBCUniversal division. We don't know all the details just yet, but we do know the name will be Peacock, nodding back to NBC's largely forgotten "proud as a peacock" slogan from the early '80s. The company has scheduled an official introduction for investors on Jan. 16, where it should supply more answers.
Investors, as well as TV viewers, may be somewhat hesitant to sign up. The on-demand video arena is already dominated by Netflix, and Hulu -- mostly owned by Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) -- is making inroads. ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC) already has an entry in the race too, called CBS All Access. Peacock may turn out to be better than others, but consumers could be weary of exploring the growing plethora of options. Being first can sometimes mean more than being best.
There's a rumored nuance that may give Peacock a leg up though. The buzz is, Peacock could be an entirely free service for everyone, 100% supported by advertising.
Add AVOD to your vocabulary
Most investors are familiar with the abbreviation for subscription video on demand ... SVOD. There's another one to add your OTTV (over-the-top television) lexicon though: AVOD, or advertising-based video on demand.
It's certainly not the norm within the streaming industry, but that's slowly changing. Viewers of ViacomCBS's Pluto TV or IMDb TV from Amazon.com have seen television commercials before and during their streaming programming, and both have respectable followings. Hulu has always had an ad-supported lower-priced tier as well.
The reason? Subscription video services and skinny bundles may be relatively cheap, but stack two or three of them on top of one another and consumers quickly find themselves paying the kind of monthly bill they were trying to avoid by cutting the cord.
There's an alternative, as it turns out, that's proven palatable to consumers and marketable to advertisers. Though the United States' AVOD industry is only poised to reach $7.7 billion in revenue this year, according to forecasts from Digital TV Research, that number could swell to a little more than $20 billion by 2024. Globally, the five-year projection is $56 billion.
That's not a bad chunk of change worth targeting, particularly in light of the fact that the OTTV market is still fragmented and might be fairly easy to penetrate.
Management keeps bringing it up
Comcast's NBC hasn't definitively said it intends to make Peacock a true AVOD offering. Representatives from the parent company as well as the television arm have intentionally touched all around the topic, however, clearly suggesting it's a possibility ... for some. "We're not doing the same strategy as Netflix and people chasing Netflix have adopted. We're primarily working with the existing ecosystem and doing a lot of AVOD activity," said Steve Burke, CEO of Comcast's NBCUniversal in October, when it was believed Peacock would only be freely available to existing NBC subscribers.
Since then the prospect that Peacock could be available to anyone -- supported by revenue-bearing commercials rather than subscription fees -- has gained even more traction. NBCUniversal's CFO Mike Cavanagh commented just earlier this month, "We think we've got a pretty special opportunity, [especially] when you think about the relatively underserved segment of premium content [that is] ad-supported. Consumer demand is there, with all the pay-for SVOD services that are proliferating." He went on to explain there could be "different pricing schemes," suggesting some of those subscription options could include a "reasonable amount of ads."
And those aren't the only mentions management has made about taking the ad-supported route.
It's still not a commitment. Comcast may not even fully know what it wants to do with Peacock. It is clear, however, that the company is at least thinking about moving down a relatively untraveled path. That could be just enough differentiation to make NBCUniversal's new service a standout in its own right.
Don't get too excited just yet
Regardless of what model -- or models -- Comcast ultimately chooses, the media company is almost sure to face the same headaches other telecom and technology names in the streaming space have. That is, it could take a while to develop enough scale to make the platform profitable. Assuming the spending plan stays on track and viewership is what it's expected to be, the company believes Peacock won't reach fiscal viability until its fifth year of service.
Still, against a backdrop of waning cable viewership that works against Comcast's cable TV operation as well as against NBC's television broadcasting business, the strategy offers hope, tantamount to making lemonade out of cord-cutting lemons. Even a modest amount of success with an AVOD-oriented Peacock could be enough to give the company the benefit of any doubt.
At the very least it will be an experiment others watch closely.