I think Peacock knows that it is not in a good place as far as how it compares to other paid streaming services. There has been nothing published so far to imply this but the offering launched in April for Comcast customers which means that the service has had some time to look at reactions and viewership numbers. Here is why I think it knows there is trouble on the horizon. Because it is giving its premium service away for free for an entire quarter of the year. The only service that has given such a gigantic free preview so far was Quibi. And even Quibi cut it off at 90 days. But from July 15 to October 15 the service will be totally free to anyone who signs up.
Here is what I think is going on.
First off as stated above something tells me that there has not been an overwhelming response to Peacock in its soft keep it in the family launch. Though executives speak glowingly about the numbers they do not share any. If they could say that Comcast customers are spending 20 percent of their viewing time with Peacock they would shout it from the rooftops. But not being privy to the numbers for certain I can’t say for sure.
Another possibility is that Peacock execs are considering a different marketing formula than saying you can watch 7,500 hours of content for free, 15,000 hours for $5.99 and commercial free for $10.99. That is confusing from the start. The commercials running on late night TV repeat that Peacock is Free! This makes us wonder if….
Maybe It Is only going to have 2 tiers
Maybe it wants to see how many people will tune in for free with commercials. After all that is what is super-hot in the streaming world right now. This is why Viacom bought Pluto TV, Comcast bought XUMO and Fox bought Tubi TV. AVOD is a way to sell commercials on old archived material and introduce it to audiences that have never heard of it. For instance, if kids like the new Saved By The Bell maybe they will binge the old one and watch the commercials. Same thing goes Same thing for Punky Brewster. A free tier with commercials or a paid tier without would be more like Hulu, which has a paid tier with commercials and a more expensive one without them. If the content is really popular and enough people take to it with its various linear channels and other perks it may just cut its losses and take the PR win.
Comcast will likely have a way to collect data on who is watching, when, how and so on. That information will be helpful to the company overall. It will give them a good feel for what kind of programming can work in the future. Though it seems like it should have a good feel for this already. By giving people the thrill of thinking they are getting something for free they will be able to get all kinds of information about the audience, most of them blissfully unaware that it is even happening.
Maybe the service does not want to stall out on the opening but does not have enough material to make it seem worth paying for. COVID-19 really hurt filming schedules but if the service launches and says hey pay for this. It will be great later! That will not be an impressive pitch. But by putting it out there for free to start with they can find out if people really want to see the Late Show Earlier and if people love their original content and figure out what direction to go later. On top of that assuming that filing can get back in business (though exploding numbers in Ca may not allow for it) maybe by the time the four months is wrapping up in the fall Peacock will have a boatload of new content ready to go so that they can try to entice people to stay for more and pay.
But the whole thing may blow up in its face. Why?
Why buy the cow?
Once people have already seen all of its hyped original content for free and been impressed, amused or even worse less than impressed how willing will they be to pay for it? Will they do it because of the lure of The Office or 30 Rock? I mean maybe. The first four months better blow people away. There better be a baby ET showing up on Punky Brewster. Because nothing in its early announcements screams you have to see this. More likely some people will think it’s just fine for a free service and some will conclude that there are better things to watch all over the place or avoid because they don’t like the parent company.
They might be making too big a bet on themselves
There is a website I follow that has operated without a subscription model since it launched that once encouraged users to sign up for a special subscription-based version of it for I don’t remember how much like 4-5 bucks a month. Even though the spit test said that nothing that would normally be free would be put behind a pay wall the reader reaction was furious. “Why should I have to pay for this”, “It’s fine for free but not worth paying for” and so on. The paid option was never mentioned again. Could Peacock end up like that? If Brave New World is not The Man In The High Castle and The Handmaids Tale after both got their legs under them in season 2 right from the start, it might be a really hard sell to keep people coming back to pay for it. HBO Now had trouble with Game of Thrones leaving and Peacock does not have a long history of creating content that catches the public imagination.
This fall might be bad for the economy
I don’t pretend to be Paul Krugman here, but I know this. Lots of people have lost jobs. And those who do get paid to talk about economic issues are not predicting a big turnaround soon. And even if lots of people get their jobs back they are going to be recovering from the last few months. Who knows if things are going to be getting better. Right now, there are as many as 40 million people out of work. This means that people are going to thinking about how to tighten the belt and maybe get to Christmas with something under the tree. They are not going to thinking about spending more money on TV.
It’s only announced TV streaming partners Apple TV and Android TV
This is bad. In the next month maybe Peacock will ink major deals with Roku and Fire TV. As of Wednesday, the only announced streaming partner on a TV format were Apple TV and Android TV. Between Gone With The Wind and lack of Roku and Fire TV access HBO Max has had a not great start. Quibi, which was a troubled concept from the start famously was unavailable on every major platform other than mobile. This is not how to start a new service. Disney+ on the other hand launched on almost every platform including Samsung TV’s. If the first month or two of Peacocks existence relies on Android TV it is in big trouble. Because while it is the fourth most popular Streaming OS this is not a four-man race.