Comcast’s Matt Strauss Discusses How Peacock Spread Its Wings During a Pandemic

Launching NBCUniversal’s new flagship streaming service Peacock might have seemed a daunting task under normal circumstances — but it took on new challenges during a pandemic.

Still, Matt Strauss and his team knew there were many ways Peacock could spread its wings.

Strauss, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international at Comcast, is responsible for all aspects of Peacock, among other duties. The AVOD/SVOD hybrid service has gathered 26 million total subscribers, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell revealed Dec. 8.

Strauss told attendees Dec. 15 at DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s virtual pre-CES event that Peacock, which launched in July, is designed to fill an important niche in the increasingly competitive streaming marketplace — and that it has a long-term strategy.

“When we launched Peacock, we really wanted to keep our heads down,” he said. “It was really about execution. We thought that there was an opportunity to surprise and delight people with something that we believe is unique in the market, but at the same time, one of our mantras has really been it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

One initial curveball during launch was the postponement of the Olympics, which had been designed as must-see programming on the new streaming service, to be boosted by an elaborate marketing campaign.

“I’m always a very optimistic person by nature, and I always look for a silver lining,” Strauss said. “I think that there was a silver lining because the week that we were planning to launch nationally for the Olympics — it would have been great in many respects — but at the same time it was a kind of very concentrated way that we were going to launch during the few weeks of the Olympics, and what we ended up doing is coming up with a similar plan, but we spread it out across the back half of the year, and I think that that gave us this ongoing cadence and drumbeat that, from a marketing standpoint, I believe, was actually better than what we had initially planned.”

There was another bright side.

“We actually thought that in a small way Peacock could benefit with everything that was going on in the world, giving people another entertainment option,” he said.

Another advantage Peacock had was companywide expertise and products supporting a service that “really taps into every part of Comcast,” he said. The platform is built from Sky’s Snap TV OTT service, NBCUniversal powered a lot of the programming, and Comcast’s cable unit offered on demand knowledge.

“I myself come from Comcast cable,” he said. “I’ve been at Comcast for 16 years, so I’ve had a front row seat in the evolution that we’ve gone through as a company with the development of X1 and Flex, broadband products. When it came to Peacock, you really had stakeholders from all the different parts of the company with different experiences that were brought to the table when it came to design.”

Peacock tapped Comcast’s X1 and Flex (Internet-only) customers to refine the user interface by offering its premium service to them first at no additional cost in April.

“It was a really interesting sandbox, and we wanted to use three months to really harden the application,” he said.

Executives didn’t want Peacock to be a “me too” service, so they combined the experience of watching linear TV with on-demand components and a unique “trending” feature, tapping into how younger generations interact with video. They also decided to offer ads, in a departure from other new services Disney+ and Apple TV+, as well as established SVOD player Netflix.

“We know the trends that everybody else is looking at,” he said. “You’re continuing to see pay-TV decline, not really because people don’t like pay television, but because they’re getting priced out. The average cable or satellite bill is $85 a month. And then you’re looking at a service like Netflix, which has done a very good job at creating a good price-value equation, that others are moving towards, and you know there’s a lot of competition in the streaming space and it’s only grown in past 18 months, and a lot of it is trying to go after Netflix, and we realized that that wasn’t really where we thought the opportunity was for us.”

They decided on offering a free, ad-supported component to combat this subscription fatigue.

“At some point, when you’re paying for internet and now two, three or four subscription services, I think for some people it becomes frustrating,” he said.

The Peacock team also concentrated on offering a unique product.

“Our ambition with Peacock is to really position ourselves as the premium ad-supported aggregation streaming service,” he said. “We didn’t call ourselves NBC+. We didn’t call ourselves that for a reason — because we wanted to position ourselves as an aggregator that can go beyond the boundaries of our catalog and our content. But we also believe as we continue to produce more programming, add more content, that there’s also an opportunity for us to migrate customers to subscription.”

They also knew there was an opportunity to address a need in the advertising community as more eyeballs were moving to streaming.

“There was a pent-up demand that was growing with advertisers looking for the ability to participate,” he said. “But they want to participate with premium content, and there weren’t a lot of options in the streaming space that they could participate in that way, and we saw that as a sweet spot for us.”

In contrast to other ad-supported streaming services, Peacock has a more user-friendly ad load of no more than five minutes of ads per hour, he said.

“We felt really fortunate that we were able to secure 10 premium launch sponsors with Peacock, and the benefit is that they get an uncluttered environment,” he said. “They also have a seat at the table as we’re developing the product because in many respects our ambition is really not just to look at this as a 15-second spot or a 30-second spot but how do we start to find other creative ways through ad innovation that we can bring the advertisers to light.”

Unlike other services, Peacock also avoids repeating ads to a customer over and over again.

“Even if it’s a limited ad load, there’s nothing more frustrating in my opinion than seeing the same ad in different pods while you’re watching a show,” he said.

Looking into 2021, Strauss sees a wealth of programming coming, in part due to production slowdowns and the Olympics delay.

“The Olympics got shifted, and now next year, we’ll almost have two Olympics within a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “Even though we were able to launch over a dozen original series this year, we had more planned, and now we’re going to have more next year than we had initially contemplated because of COVID.”

The service in January will serve up a Wild Card game with the NFL, and then there’s the sitcom juggernaut “The Office,” which also hits the service that month. NBCUniversal outbid Netflix, on which “The Office” reigned as one of the top programs, to bring the comedy to Peacock.

“We’ve got some exciting things in how we can present ‘The Office’ in a way that’s maybe a little bit more unique than what people have seen in the past,” he said.

The first two seasons (2005-06) of the series will be available for free with ads, while subsequent seasons, in addition to “Superfan Episodes,” will be available on Peacock Premium for $4.99 monthly with ads; $9.99 without ads. The “Superfan Episodes” offer unseen footage, extended cuts and deleted scenes.

Follow us on Instagram

Having tried to launch an on-demand service almost 20 years ago, Strauss said he feels “almost like a kid in a candy store” with the technology and marketplace Peacock is in today.

“I feel fortunate that I was almost given an opportunity to do it again, but to do it in a way where the technology has evolved, clearly audiences and users have evolved, and the distribution has grown significantly,” he said.

Starting a streaming VOD service from scratch has been a unique opportunity, he said.

“I’ve got this sandbox,” he said. “I can really try to push the envelope to where I think the puck is going with what people are looking for, and the bar’s lower because I’m starting with almost no subscribers, so it’s an opportunity for us to iterate quickly, learn quickly.”

Vizio Appoints Former AMC Networks, Dish Exec VP of Network Partnerships

Consumer electronics company Vizio has appointed former AMC Networks and Dish executive Adam Gaynor VP of network partnerships.

In this role, Gaynor will help build direct relationships with networks across Vizio’s SmartCast platform and its advertiser-direct business unit Vizio Ads.

“Adam’s addition to the team represents Vizio’s continued focus and investment in driving the future of TV,” Mike O’Donnell, chief revenue officer at Vizio, said in a statement. “Not only does Adam have extensive experience working with networks, but he has been at the forefront of championing addressable advertising, going back to his previous efforts driving live linear addressable advertising at AMC Networks and Dish.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In addition to spearheading network relationships, Gaynor will be heavily involved in advancing Project Open Addressable Ready (Project OAR), a technology consortium led by Vizio and created to advance the development and deployment of a new, open standard for addressable advertising on connected TVs. The consortium recently announced live market trials with network partners such as Fox, ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, E.W. Scripps and AMC Networks.

Follow us on Instagram

“Vizio is building the next generation of home entertainment, powered by data and personalized consumer experiences,” Gaynor said in a statement. “I’m excited to join the team to advance VIZIO’s initiatives on the network and addressable front, enabling advertisers to deliver more precise messages to their intended audiences at the right time.”

Before joining Vizio, Gaynor was most recently VP of AMCN Agility, the data solutions sales team for AMC Networks. There, he created and oversaw the development and monetization of all advanced and data-driven TV advertising opportunities across the AMC Networks portfolio. He also served as VP, media sales and analytics for Dish Network, where he led the company’s media sales division, inclusive of all addressable, interactive, programmatic and OTT initiatives. Gaynor also held posts at Game Show Network, Comcast and CBS.

Hulu Launches Ad-Assist Program for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

Hulu has launched the Creative Partner Program to assist small- and medium-sized businesses in creating advertising on the service.

The program offers access to “creative partners who are specially trained in Hulu best practices, and have expertise creating unique, non-templated ads for smaller businesses at all stages of the advertising creative process,” according to Faye Trapani, director of self-service platform sales.

The Creative Partner Program currently consists of four partners: GeneroShuttlerockQuickFrame and VidMob.

The service helps smaller businesses to design a program “whether an advertiser is repurposing an existing video for streaming TV or ‘baking from scratch,’” according to Trapani.

The Creative Partner Program offers a range of production options and price points.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

ViacomCBS Announces Fall Launch of EyeQ Ad Platform

ViacomCBS announced the planned fall 2020 launch of ViacomCBS EyeQ, a connected video advertising platform that will serve as a single transactional point of entry for digital video content from the company’s portfolio of broadcast, entertainment, news and sports networks, according to the company.

EyeQ will bring together all of the company’s connected video assets — including BET, CBS Television Network, CBS All Access, CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, Pluto TV and VH1 — allowing advertisers to access a viewing audience that measures 50 million full-episode monthly unique viewers in the United States, and 150 million across all content and all devices, according to the company.

“The launch of EyeQ marks the arrival of one of the biggest premium video platforms in digital media,” John Halley, chief operating officer of advertising revenue at ViacomCBS, said in a statement. “In unifying the operating backend and go-to-market of three large pre-existing players — CBS Interactive, Pluto TV, and Viacom Video — we have consolidated a massive audience footprint that will deliver quality, scale, and capabilities that cannot be matched.”

“EyeQ is game changing,” David Lawenda, EVP of digital sales and strategy at ViacomCBS, said in a statement. “It is a portal into 50 million highly engaged, full-episode viewers watching our content each month, with 80% of the consumption happening on TV glass. And ViacomCBS can now offer unified buying and frequency control across all of that scale, which is aligned to the needs of an advertising marketplace that is increasingly focused on incremental reach.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

EyeQ will simplify transactions and reporting across the company’s digital offering and will support a variety of transactional models depending on advertiser preference, including programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace. It will offer multiple lanes of activation, including:

  • content segments, allowing advertisers to verticalize spend under scaled content categories;
  • broad demos, allowing advertisers to maximize reach across all viewership and platforms;
  • strategic segments, allowing advertisers to leverage syndicated behavioral sets or custom audiences through ad platform Vantage; and
  • creative, allowing advertisers to customize immersive brand experiences for greater impact through integrations, custom creative, influencers, and live experiences.

Follow us on Instagram

EyeQ will also introduce a new reporting infrastructure to provide real-time data and tactical campaign guidance for advertisers to track spending across platforms, according to the company. Additionally, EyeQ will offer a range of solutions to measure the effectiveness of campaigns, including ad quality metrics, brand lift, attribution and social sentiment.

Roku Partners With Kroger for Shopper Data Program

Roku June 8 announced the launch of a new shopper data program to make online TV advertising more precise and measurable for CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketers. Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, plans to join the program as the launch partner to build first-to-market targeting and attribution tools for streaming TV.

With more than 40 million registered users in the United States and 13.2 billion hours streamed during Q1 2020, streaming video pioneer Roku is looking to expand its media reach into TV advertising. Los Gatos, Calif.-based Roku’s ad-supported branded AVOD channel boasted 56 million viewers in 2019.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Completion of the integration will give marketers access to Kroger data to measure ad campaign performance across the Roku platform, as well as tools from Roku to measure the effectiveness of linear TV built on what it claims is the largest licensed TV operating system in North America.

With the economy hit hard by shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, CPG marketers are seeking advanced data solutions to make TV advertising more relevant and performance-driven.

Targeted advertising can increase effectiveness and minimize ad waste while achieving the scale CPG marketers require, according to Roku. For instance, Kroger could help marketers segment messages to high-volume category buyers, customers who occasionally buy a category, or those who buy a complementary category.

Follow us on Instagram

The new shopper data program will provide Kroger sales information to help marketers make smarter media buying decisions. Marketers will be able to use the program to activate advertising across hundreds of ad-supported channels on America’s No.1 streaming platform (by hours streamed according to Kantar) and to tie ad exposure directly to in-store and online sales.

Kroger compiles consumer data from 60 million households across nearly 2,800 Kroger stores. With streaming TV (and AVOD) accelerating, Kroger said sought a market leader in OTT to bring accurate identity and viewing data founded in a direct consumer relationship.

“TV streaming brings digital-like precision to the big screen,” Cara Pratt, VP of commercial and product strategy, Kroger precision marketing, said in a statement.

“We believe that all TV ads will be targeted and measurable,” added Alison Levin, VP of ad sales and strategy, Roku. “Our new shopper data program will make it easier and more effective for CPG advertisers to shift spend to streaming and focus on value for every ad dollar spent.”

WarnerMedia Absorbs Xandr Ad Platform

AT&T continues to rejigger its media operations, combining WarnerMedia and ad platform Xandr for what the telecom claims will be a better advertising value proposition for brands, publishers and consumers. Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia and president of WarnerMedia International, will oversee all advertising responsibilities across AT&T.

The merger was foreshadowed last month when Brian Lesser, CEO of Xandr, abruptly resigned, creating some uncertainty about the future the advertising unit.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

​Kirk McDonald, chief business officer of Xandr will continue to lead the unit, reporting directly to Zeiler. The merged goal is to accelerate new advertising formats by 2021 for HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s high-profile subscription streaming video service launching this month. ​

“Now more than ever, we need to simplify advertising and further our marketplace capabilities for our customers,” Zeiler said in a statement.

As the lines between TV and digital video continue to converge, Xandr’s platform aims to make it easier for ad buyers/sellers to find audiences across multiple distribution screens.

Follow us on Instagram

“This is done through one holistic conversation that spans premium content and trusted environments, alongside proven and advanced ad capabilities,” Zeiler said.

HBO Max Releases New Spot for Service

A new spot released April 22 kicked off the brand marketing campaign for WarnerMedia’s SVOD service HBO Max. The campaign centers on the tagline “Where HBO Meets So Much More.”

HBO Max launches May 27 with 10,000 hours of programming, including the entire HBO service, titles from Warner Bros. and a monthly offering of new Max Originals.

The spot “aims to call attention to the connective tissue that runs through all of the iconic programming and characters who will call the new streamer home,” according to the service. Marketing plans intend to “show how HBO Max is not just more of HBO, but more than HBO,” according to the press release.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“HBO is the gold standard in terms of premium original content, and we are going to market on the strength of that brand and the power of the library,” said Chris Spadaccini, chief marketing officer, WarnerMedia Entertainment & Direct-to-Consumer. “But HBO Max offers so much more than just HBO. We are establishing HBO Max as a place where all your favorite shows and movies intersect in unexpected ways. There’s a really fun attitude and personality to the campaign and each one of our ads has an element of surprise and delight.”

Pluto TV Bows New Features, Marketing Campaign

ViacomCBS-owned AVOD service Pluto TV March 2 announced the rollout of a new features and the company’s largest ever consumer marketing campaign with the tagline: “Drop In. It’s Free.”

The product upgrade, Project Venetia, delivers new features and design changes.

“Today marks another major step for Pluto TV in its mission to entertain the planet,” Tom Ryan, CEO and co-founder of Pluto TV, said in a statement. “Project Venetia makes it even easier for viewers to find and enjoy their favorite streaming TV programming. And with our new brand campaign, we’re communicating the core value proposition of Pluto TV and inviting everyone to visit a bold new world of television. As our new tagline promises, you can drop in anytime and start watching hundreds of channels on any device, all for free.”

The “Drop In” campaign, launched March 2, features a 30-second commercial on late-nite programming, an out-of-home campaign in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis and Houston, connected-TV and streaming-audio takeovers, digital and social activations, and in-theater advertising.

The parallel development of a new interface design and brand campaign includes a new logo. The new identity is rolling out across platform, on-air and marketing touchpoints over the coming weeks.

Follow us on Instagram

Project Venetia is currently live on Apple, Vizio, and Roku devices with staged releases across other devices, including Android and Amazon Fire TV, and more features rolling out over the coming months.  Newly launched features include new linear and improved on-demand user experience designs featuring categories of content, the ability to put favorite channels at the top of the guide, a watch list, and a “Watch Now” button that pops up when a desired title is available.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Pluto TV has more than 22 million monthly viewers in the United States, and offers more than 250 channels of live, linear, lean-back programming and thousands of on-demand titles streaming on all major mobile, web and connected TV devices.  Pluto TV is also live in territories throughout Europe, with Latin America launching at the end of March.

Pluto TV. Drop in. It’s free. Full 30 from Pluto TV on Vimeo.

Pluto TV. Drop in. It’s Free. Couch from Pluto TV on Vimeo.

Pluto TV. Drop in. It’s free. Woman from Pluto TV on Vimeo.

Pluto TV: Drop in. It’s free. Security from Pluto TV on Vimeo.

 

Disney Stops Running Netflix Ads on its Networks

The streaming video wars are heating up.

With Disney set to launch a branded $6.99 subscription streaming video service (Disney+) on Nov. 12, it has reportedly begun circling the wagons around its media brands — denying Netflix ads from airing on select entertainment networks.

Netflix, in a shrewd marketing move, had apparently upped running ad-spots specifically on Disney networks.

Impacted properties include ABC (notably the Oscars), FX, Freedom and National Geographic. Disney will still accept Netflix advertising on ESPN since the SVOD pioneer does not stream live sports.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

In a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Disney said that as the “direct-to-consumer business has evolved, with many more entrants looking to advertise in traditional television, and across our portfolio networks … [it has] “reevaluated our strategy to reflect the comprehensive business relationships have with many of these companies, as direct-to-consumer is one element.”

While rival media/tech companies also ready proprietary streaming services, it is unknown if their marketing has been impacted by Disney’s move.

But then they aren’t Netflix, which with more than 150 million subscribers worldwide, dominates the SVOD ecosystem.

In 2017, Disney began pulling back original movies (i.e. Star Wars, Pixar) and select Marvel programming from Netflix as it began assembling Disney+. The move was noteworthy considering the two companies in 2015 inked a landmark distribution deal making Netflix the exclusive pay-TV distributor for Disney movies.

In a related move, Disney CEO Bob Iger removed himself from the board of Apple as the tech giant readies a reboot of its Apple TV platform to include subscription streaming video and original content.

 

Sling TV Launches Puppet ‘Slingy’ to Promote Service

OTT service Sling TV is introducing “Slingy,” a puppet star of its new digital ads.

The puppet is designed and created by Tim Clarke, one of the masterminds behind “The Muppets” puppet design, according to the service’s blog.

Subscribe HERE to our FREE daily newsletter!  

“Slingy is on a mission to let everyone know that Slinging is easy and anyone can do it — even a puppet!” reads the blog. “Slingy is passionate about educating live TV lovers who want to cut the cord and is even willing to show up at people’s homes and offices to tell them about Sling. After a visit from Slingy, consumers can’t help but get excited about the choice, flexibility and control that Sling TV offers without the baggage that comes with cable.”

Last year, Sling TV launched a tongue-in-cheek TV campaign featuring celebrity couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as “slingers.”