Streaming services saw a bump in sign-ups through the worst months of the pandemic. But as the world has somewhat returned to normal, the subscriber story has been mixed.
Walt Disney's (DIS 0.84%) Disney+ and Warner Bros. Discovery's (WBD 6.01%) HBO Max have maintained user growth, though at a slower rate. Meanwhile, Netflix (NFLX 0.39%) has seen an exodus of customers and is now trying new strategies to reignite growth.
Elsewhere, Peacock, which is owned by Comcast Holdings (CMCSA -0.17%), has seen its paid subscriber count remain flat over consecutive quarters. In its fiscal second-quarter earnings report, Comcast said Peacock had 13 million subscribers, the same number for the prior quarter. However, despite the lackluster performance, there are indications Peacock is in a position to see a notable rise in premium users.
Holding steady in a tough economic environment
Not counting food and energy costs, the U.S. Consumer Price Index climbed to 6.3% in April of this year. It continued to rise in May, reaching 8.6%, and hit 9.1% in June, its highest 12-month level since November 1981. Considering Peacock's second-quarter performance covers all of those months, it's interesting that the streamer held its own and did not lose customers during the period.
With rapid inflation and now higher interest rates, many economists are concerned the U.S. economy could find itself in a recession before the year is out.
With such gloomy prospects on the horizon, it's reasonable to think that U.S. consumers will soon reassess their expenses. A household that subscribes to multiple streaming services could consider what to cut back on. HBO Max's With Ads Plan starts at $9.99 per month, as does Netflix Basic. Disney+ by itself begins at $7.99 per month, and the Disney Bundle (Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+) is $19.99 per month.
By contrast, Peacock users can get started with a free ad-supported tier, and those that want more content can subscribe to Peacock Premium starting at $4.99 per month.
A bank of content
Since launching in April 2020, Comcast has added popular shows and movies from its back catalog to Peacock, including The Office, Parks and Recreation, Meet the Parents, and the Jurassic Park film franchise. Peacock is also the streaming home to newer programming such as Yellowstone, which drew 11 million viewers during its season-four finale.
There are also more bright spots for Peacock throughout the rest of fiscal 2022: The fifth season of Yellowstone is scheduled to begin this fall, and the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament will stream live in November and December.
The nature of streaming services is that, compared to cable, they're relatively easy to pick up and drop. Customers might sign up temporarily to binge on a show or to catch a big sporting event, only to cancel soon after. But the more a streamer can offer other content viewers might like, the higher the prospects they will stick around for longer.
A good start
During Comcast's second-quarter earnings call, chairman Brian L. Roberts suggested Peacock is on the right track. "Going from zero to 13 million paid subs in a couple of years at Peacock is a great achievement," Roberts said. With Peacock's content looking promising through the end of the year -- and the potential of economic headwinds slowing down more-expensive competition -- Comcast is primed to take advantage.
Netflix and Disney+ have lower-cost ad-supported tiers in the pipeline, so Peacock will want to make a play for price-sensitive consumers in the near term, especially if an economic downturn is coming.
If Peacock can sign a significant number of subscribers to its $4.99 ad-based plan before the budget-streaming space is too crowded, then -- as market conditions improve -- the streamer could unlock other avenues of growth, such as encouraging subscribers to switch to its $9.99 ad-free Peacock Premium Plus tier.