Comcast’s NBC Universal business unit next year launches Peacock, a branded subscription and ad-supported streaming video platform.
Peacock will be available for free (with ads) to Xfinity subscribers and for a fee to non-pay-TV subs.
Speaking Dec. 9 at the UBS Global TMT Conference in New York City, Mike Cavanagh, CFO of Comcast Corp., disclosed that the media company plans to spend upwards of $2 billion on original content and marketing over the first two years for the streaming service.
Comcast Corp. Dec. 4 announced it would host an investor event on Jan. 16, 2020 to discuss NBCUniversal’s plans for its new Peacock streaming service, including the overarching strategy for the platform.
The service will be both ad-supported and subscription-based for Xfinity and non-pay-TV subscribers. It marks NBCUniversal’s first proprietary branded over-the-top video platform after years of largely ignoring streaming video in favor of the pay-TV business model.
With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, which Comcast owned a stake in, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke reversed longstanding indifference to OTT video after competitors WarnerMedia, AT&T, Apple and Disney launched proprietary platforms.
The meeting will be webcast live on at www.cmcsa.com and a replay will be available shortly after the event concludes.
Comcast NBCUniversal is reuniting E.T. and Elliott — iconic characters from Universal Pictures’ 1982 classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial — to market Xfinity and Sky technology.
In a short made in connection with the Comcast-owned studio, E.T. is back on earth for a surprise visit with Elliott (Henry Thomas reprising his role), who now has his own family. Although technology has changed the world since they’ve last seen each other 37 years ago, their connection and friendship remain strong.
The two-minute version of the story will debut during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC in the United States, and then the full-length, four-minute version will be immediately available at xfinity.com/ET.
The company will be featuring the film on Syfy on Thanksgiving Day and making it available on demand for Xfinity TV customers. Xfinity TV customers with X1 will be able to say “E.T. Phone Home” into their voice remote for an E.T.-themed destination. Anyone who visits a Xfinity retail location can pick up an E.T. coloring book and candy.
“The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts. It’s really a win-win,” stated Thomas, who starred in director Steven Spielberg’s classic as the 10-year-old boy who helps a lost alien find his way home. “Looking at the storyboards, I could see exactly why Steven was really behind it, because the integrity of the story isn’t lost in this retelling.”
“More than anything, the whole story is about family,” added short director Lance Acord in a statement.
“Our goal is to show how Xfinity and Sky technology connects family, friends and loved ones, which is so important during the holidays,” said Peter Intermaggio, SVP for marketing communications, Comcast Cable. “The classic friendship between E.T. and Elliott resonates around the world, and their story became a very meaningful way to bring our company’s consumer technology to life.”
It’s no secret Netflix subscriber growth is slowing as the SVOD pioneer reaches market saturation. The service is projected to reach 165 million subs worldwide at the end of the current fiscal quarter, ending Dec. 31.
That reality at a time when high-profile competitors such as Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia and NBC Universal enter the streaming video wars underscores why Netflix co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings is hoping Wall Street and others will shift their focus from sub growth to viewing hours.
Speaking Dec. 6 at The New York Times DealBook confab in New York, Hastings said time spent streaming content should become the new metric underscoring a service’s success.
“You’ll hear some subscriber numbers but you can just bundle things so that’s not going to be that relevant,” Hastings said. “So the real measurement will be time — how do consumers vote with their evenings? What mix of all the services do they end up watching?”
Earlier this year Streaming Observer concluded Netflix subs worldwide spent 164.8 million combined hours a day watching content — and in the process used nearly 500 million GB of data on a daily basis.
Indeed, Hastings’ comment may ring true as nascent competitors such as Apple TV+, Disney+ and HBO Max offer free service to in-house and third-party platforms such as Verizon and AT&T. Apple is offering its service free for one year with any Apple hardware purchase.
Netflix itself has a promotional free year of service with select T-Mobile service plans.
Hastings contends most consumers will subscribe to multiple services, reiterating that he will personally subscribe to Disney+ (“They have great shows!” he said) upon its Nov. 12 launch.
At the end of the day, Hastings is betting consumers will lean toward established brands with proven track records in the SVOD space.
“When you think, ‘Do I turn on cable, do I turn on YouTube, do I turn on Netflix?’ we want you to choose Netflix,” he said.
With legacy pay-TV under siege from cord-cutting subscribers and high-profile alternatives such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and now Apple TV+, the status quo for traditional carriage agreements has gone out the window.
And so it was that Comcast last month quietly announced it would soon end Xfinity subscriber access to Starz, the premium movie and TV service it acquired in 2016 for $4.4 billion.
The news was significant since Comcast represents about a third of Starz’ 24.4 million subscribers. Starz, which operates its own branded $8.99 monthly subscription streaming service, has been a profit vehicle for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Lionsgate.
Comcast reported it will replace Starz on Dec. 10 with Epix, the premium service owned by MGM and formerly Lionsgate, unless a new agreement can be reached. The news has contributed to a 9% drop in Lionsgate’s stock valuation — which is already down nearly 50% in the fiscal year.
The negotiation impasse has reportedly caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which continues to have Comcast in its crosshairs ever since its acquisition of NBC Universal in 2009. Back then, regulators forced the cable giant to relinquish management input on its stake in Hulu, citing antitrust issues.
Earlier this year Comcast sold its Hulu stake to Disney after acquiring Sky satellite TV operator in the United Kingdom.
Comcast’s NBC Universal unit is readying its own SVOD service, Peacock, early next year.
The situation prompted Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to contact Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim to investigate the situation. Delrahim played a significant role in the DOJ’s failed attempt to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.
“These changes could lessen competition in the video programming market and limit choices for many thousands of consumers in Maine and millions more across the nation,” Collins wrote in a letter to Delrahim as reported by CNBC.
“I encourage both of you to seek a win-win solution and consider all options to keep Starz programming on the air,” Feinstein wrote in a separate letter.
Comcast is employing strategy out of Dish Networks’ playbook, which typically includes threats to halt access to third-party content distribution for more favorable distribution terms. Indeed, Dish currently has HBO blacked out to it subscribers.
Comcast, like Dish, contends its subs can access services such as Starz and HBO independently, thus negating what it considers to be excessive carriage fees.
“At the end of the day, this is a routine commercial negotiation that raises no conceivable antitrust concerns,” Comcast said in a statement.
Starz countered that Comcast is forcing its subs to pay more for its service.
“By unilaterally taking Starz out of its packages with no refund … Comcast is unfairly depriving them of relatable programming that reflects their cultural experience,” read a Starz statement.
Seeking to avoid confusion among consumers facing a barrage of new high-profile subscription streaming video services entering the market next month, NBC Universal plans to focus its branded Peacock service around ad-supported content.
Speaking on the Oct. 24 Comcast fiscal call, Stephen Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, said Peacock would attempt to assuage Xfinity subscribers considering ditching the traditional cable bundle for over-the-top video.
“I think the most important thing to think about as you’re thinking about Peacock and its role inside NBCU and broader Comcast, is we’re not doing the same strategy that Netflix and people chasing Netflix have adopted,” Burke said.
Comcast, long a defender of linear TV, has slowly adopted Netflix, YouTube and other OTT behemoths into the Xfinity ecosystem in an effort to mollify subs and keep their discretionary home entertainment spending within the pay-TV market.
“Consumers are still trying to figure this [OTT video] out. Do I cut the cord or not? We’re in the middle of a transition phase from pay-TV model to streaming model,” Rick Kowalski, senior manager of business intelligence at the Consumer Technology Association, told NBC News. “The platforms are still trying to figure out which content and what’s the most comprehensive package they can offer, based on what their vision is. But I think we’re still in a very transitional phase.”
As a result, Burke said Peacock — which will be offered to Xfinity subs as well as the general market — would largely revolve around ad-supported content so as not to add to the monthly cable bill.
“We think that … [is going to] cut the investment pretty substantially, because I think we’re going to get to cruising altitude much more quickly than a subscription service,” he said.
Peacock will target Comcast’s 55 million video subs with a tentative April launch aimed at segueing into NBCU’s 2020 Summer Olympics coverage in Tokyo.
“It’s a very, very interesting time as everybody tries to figure out what their strategy is, and we’re very optimistic,” Burke said.
Peacock will be bundled with Xfinity Flex, Comcast Cable’s Internet-only streaming service affording direct access to OTT services, including Netflix.
“It’s a great opportunity for Flex to be able to give a lot of great NBC programming, shows like ‘The Office,’ to people at no additional charge to a broadband sub or a cable sub,” Burke said.
The executive said that, with the arrival of Apple TV+, Disney+ and HBO Max, there will be a period of “very, very aggressive” marketing and promotion surrounding the new platforms and SVOD in particular.
“At some point, there’ll be an inevitable slowing down and shakeout, and the market will get a little bit more rational,”Burke said. “But I think it’s a moment in time, and consumers are making their choices of apps and viewing habits, and you want to be aggressive to get in there and make sure that your service is one of the consumers’ handful of favorite services.”
As media companies ready a host of new over-the-top video streaming platforms, management shuffles appear to be part of the transition.
NBC Universal, which is launching branded Peacock streaming service early next year, has reportedly picked Comcast executive Matt Strauss to head the platform, replacing Bonnie Hammer, who transitions to a new position overseeing broadcast and cable studio operations, according to Variety, which first reported the move.
Both Hammer and Strauss have featured prominently in Media Play News‘ Digital Drivers annual feature story.
“Bonnie’s great taste, deep Hollywood relationships, and strong track record of generating popular and award-winning programming make her ideally suited to oversee this new division,” Steven Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, said in a statement.”
Burke contends Hammer’s expertise in both digital and network distribution will be integral to the future success of “our streaming business,” including acquiring content for Peacock.
Under Hammer, NBC Universal unveiled the Peacock brand for its streaming service that will be an unpriced add-on to Xfinity subscribers and non-subs.
Strauss, EVP of Xfinity Services, earlier this year helped launch Xfinity Flex — a $5 monthly service offering Xfinity broadband-only subs direct access (for a separate fee) to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Now, in addition to ad-supported content, and digital movies for sale and rent.
Xfinity Flex comes with more than 10,000 free online movies and TV shows — including live streaming TV — from ESPN3, Xumo, Pluto, Tubi TV, Cheddar, YouTube and more.
In other changes, Paul Telegdy will be the sole chairman of NBC Entertainment. Telegdy’s previous co-chair George Cheeks now reports to Hammer.
NBC Universal has expanded its subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) reality service “hayu” to the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Launched in 2016 in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, hayu features reality TV content, including “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and its spin-offs along with “The Real Housewives,” “Million Dollar Listing” and “Top Chef” franchises, “I Am Cait,” “Made in Chelsea,” “Flipping Out,” “Shahs of Sunset,” “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (UK and Ireland) and “Don’t Tell the Bride” (UK and Ireland), among others.
The service expanded to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark in 2017, and to Canada last year.
“Our direct-to-consumer launches in [Asia] — along with improved functionality on the platform — are two key milestones for hayu,” Hendrik McDermott, SVP, branded on-demand, NBC Universal International, said in a statement. “Now available in 14 markets, hayu has distinguished itself as the must-have, all-reality service — built upon the foundation of NBC Universal’s expertise producing top-quality reality programming and the best third-party content.”
In an era of fake news allegations, manipulation of the media for market purposes can be just as insidious.
Take Roku, the streaming media device manufacturer and platform that invented the subscription video-on-demand market ecosystem with Netflix more than 11 years ago.
Last week after Comcast announced it would begin rolling out a free streaming media device to promote its Xfinity Plex over-the-top video platform, shares of Roku began to decline — ending last week down about 30% and the worst stock performance for the company since it went public in 2017.
Of course, Wall Street always waxes extreme at the slightest wind change. Research firms notes now disseminated over the Internet with maximum ease — and effect.
But CNBC and CBC.com went further, speculating Roku shares could plummet this week.
“Roku shares could fall another 30% before finding a bottom, chart suggests” screamed the Sept. 23 Hearst-like headline.
Buried at the bottom of the story: “Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBC Universal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.”
The internal rationale suggests that the more Roku suffers, the better possible scenarios play out for Comcast and its budding Xfinity OTT plans.
After years of eschewing streaming video for its traditional pay-TV business model, Comcast has recognized that the streaming video ecosytem cannot be stopped.
That reality prompted Comcast Cable a few years ago to embrace direct access for its Xfinity subscribers to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and most recently: ad-supported Tubi TV.
Roku, in addition to manufacturing Chinese-made streaming devices — including Comcast-owned Now TV devices in the United Kingdom — operates its own AVOD service, The Roku Channel — a direct competitor to Plex and the pending Peacock streaming video platform.
“It could get even worse [for Roku],” Craig Johnson, chief market technician at Piper Jaffray, told CNBC.
To its credit, CNBC cited separate market analysis from Quint Tatro, founder of Joule Financial, who said Roku would bounce back.
Indeed, Roku last week rushed out a series of press releases touting revamped streaming devices.
“I’m a Roku user,” Tatro told CNBC. “I own six of them in our home and office. I have not had cable for years so I would not switch to a cable device.”
In a nod to its linear TV legacy, NBC Universal Sept. 17 announced that its forthcoming streaming video service will be named Peacock and launched in April 2020.
“The name Peacock pays homage to the quality content that audiences have come to expect from NBC Universal — whether it’s culture-defining dramas from innovative creators like Sam Esmail, comedies from legends like Lorne Michaels and Mike Schur, blockbusters from Universal Pictures, or buzzy unscripted programming from the people who do it best at Bravo and E!,” Bonnie Hammer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, said in a statement. “Peacock will be the go-to place for both the timely and timeless — from can’t-miss Olympic moments and the 2020 election, to classic fan favorites like ‘The Office’.”
The pending service, which will be available to Xfinity subscribers and as a standalone property to non-subs, will showcase catalog series “Battlestar Galactica,” “Saved By the Bell” and “Punky Brewster,” in addition to new series from Mike Schur, Rashida Jones and an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”
Other episodic fare includes a docuseries from “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, a Jimmy Fallon talk show, a late night series with “Late Night’s” Amber Ruffin, and another “Real Housewives” spinoff are also coming to the service.
Library content includes “The Office,” “Parks & Recreation,” “30 Rock,” “Cheers” and “Frasier.”