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Will Comcast's Fears of Disrupting Cable Stifle Peacock's Streaming Future?

By Stephen Lovely - Jan 28, 2020 at 8:25AM

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Peacock will be the result of a careful strategy -- perhaps too careful.

Comcast-owned (CMCSA -0.47%) NBCUniversal is a part of the wave of companies releasing new streaming services. But you'd be forgiven if you'd forgotten about Peacock, which the company has been preparing with relatively little hype until an investor event earlier this month.

Compared to Disney's (DIS 1.08%) juggernaut Disney+ or even Apple's (AAPL 1.89%) less popular Apple TV+, Peacock hasn't captured the imagination of streaming customers (though investors seem to be starting to notice it).

The relatively low profile is reflective of NBCUniversal's modest strategy. The company has long had a reputation for caution in the streaming space, and the design and launch of Peacock seems like it will do little to change the conventional wisdom. NBCUniversal is clearly interested in limiting its potential downside, but will playing it safe hurt Peacock in the long run?

A couple watches TV

Image source: Getty Images

Peacock's structure

Peacock works a little differently than the SVOD giants that it will compete against. Unlike Netflix (NFLX 3.29%), Disney+, and the rest of the gang, Peacock does not require its viewers to have a paid subscription. Peacock is free and ad-supported, though it gives users the option to pay $4.99 per month for a premium version (with extra content) or $9.99 per month for an ad-free version of the premium subscription. Even that premium price (with ads) is less than Disney+'s monthly rate, which itself is quite low for industry standards.

NBCUniversal hasn't confirmed which original series will be available when the service debuts, and none of the titles announced so far have gotten the sort of hype that Apple TV+'s The Morning Show got -- much less the level of anticipation that Disney+'s The Mandalorian enjoyed.

Peacock may not have hot original series (though there's still time for hype to build), but what it will have are about 7,500 hours of free programming from NBCUniversal's stash. Recent episodes of some NBC shows -- those in their first year airing -- will appear the day after they air, Hulu-style.

A limited vision

Ad-supported streaming services can work, but they rarely draw as much attention -- be it from customers, critics, or tech investors -- as their paid counterparts. NBCUniversal's stash of media properties could help change that, especially with a hefty budget for original content.

And Peacock's content budget does look pretty hefty, at least in a vacuum: Comcast will spend $2 billion on content over the next two years. The problem is that $2 billion is not nearly as eye-popping a figure for a content budget as it might have been a few years ago. Apple announced a content budget of $1 billion ahead of its Apple TV+ launch, but soon allowed its budget to balloon to $6 billion as of Apple TV+'s launch a few months ago. Disney+ is spending $3.25 billion annually, and Netflix could spend north of $17 billion in 2020.

Can Peacock dazzle?

The comparison to Apple TV+ only goes so far. While Peacock is spending less than Apple is, it also has more content in-house from the get-go (Apple, of course, had pretty much nothing). But it's also worth remembering that Apple TV+'s spending has netted it just one noteworthy show -- The Morning Show -- and, even with that show, more attention from culture critics than from subscribers.

Peacock will be going to war with less to spend and with even more competitors, including the soon-to-launch HBO Max from AT&T (T -0.66%). It will have to make its way in a fractured market full of subscription churn, where pricing a service to be in direct competition with (and, to some budget-minded consumers, mutually exclusive with) its peers may have more rewards but also more risks than its current free-to-stream strategy.

Comcast's decision to structure Peacock differently appears to be a part of a larger strategy to remain cautious and avoid tackling Netflix and Disney+ head-on with a big-budget SVOD service. Strategies like rolling out the ad-supported version of the service to existing Comcast customers should help limit the downside to this service.

But a limited vision also means a limited upside for Peacock. For the time being, it's hard to imagine that Peacock will draw attention in the way that Disney+ has.

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Stocks Mentioned

Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
$39.83 (-0.47%) $0.19
Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
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AT&T Inc. Stock Quote
AT&T Inc.
$21.17 (-0.66%) $0.14
The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$97.18 (1.08%) $1.04
Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
$185.88 (3.29%) $5.93

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