Why did Peacock give away one of its best shows to a rival streaming service?
The Streaming Wars are a high-stakes arms race in their own way, with several corporations and media companies vying for the very future of entertainment, not to mention billions of dollars.
Just like in any conflict, the Fog of War still creeps in and situational awareness recedes, as sometimes companies, ostensibly run by well-paid executives with plenty of history in television and film, make decisions that are just baffling to outside observers, not to mention TV fans.
That appears to be the case at the moment with Comcast (CMCSA) – Get Comcast Corporation Class A Common Stock Report, owners of NBC Universal, which just made one of the strangest and most preventable tactile errors the streaming wars have seen yet.
Why Did Peacock Do That?
Peacock launched in the summer of 2020, with a few selling points. It had a free, advertising supported tier, and access to the NBC back catalog, which included “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” both of which were very popular on Netflix (NFLX) – Get Netflix Inc. Report.
Besides the third season of the cult-sitcom “A.P. Bio,” (a quirky showcase for Patton Oswalt and Glenn Howerton, but a bit too kooky for most people) the main original that Peacock had to offer was an adaption of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” that failed to connect.
In general, it could be argued that Peacock, as a whole, hasn’t really connected.
In an interview with CNBC’s David Faber, NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell said Peacock now has 15 million paid subscribers and 30 million monthly active accounts, a 2 million increase from the end of the second quarter.
By comparison, Netflix has seen a slight uptick lately after experiencing a tough 2022, growing to 223.1 million, and “coming in just ahead of Disney’s 221.1 million,” as The Street’s Martin Baccardax recently wrote.
Peacock is growing, and it might not be fair to compare it to the two biggest streaming service out there. But the contrast is really striking, and shows that while NBCUniversal might be one of the biggest media companies out there, owning NBC, MSNCB and Universal Studios, it really comes off as an afterthought in the world of streaming.
Why this is the case is hard to say, but there are a few main factors.
There are more streaming services than ever, competition for eyeballs is fierce, and many subscribers are fickle, willing to sign up for a month and then leaving after they’ve watched whatever they wanted to watch. Netflix also has first mover advantage, while Disney (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report has access to Marvel, Star Wars and decades of children’s cartoons.
But another problem is that Peacock just isn’t making shows that a lot of people want to watch. But you know what’s not going to help matters? Giving away the one show people do really like to one of your biggest rivals, but that’s strangely enough what Peacock has decided to do.
Has Peacock Made A Grave Mistake?
Like any network, NBC makes a lot of shows for a lot of people, and isn’t shy at all about going broad and populist. This is the network that has had the diet competition show “The Biggest Loser,” the singing competition “The Voice” as well as several iterations of “American Ninja Warrior.”
But what NBC is really known for, the network’s core identity, is that it specializes in smart, well-written sitcoms that are generally aimed at urbanites, the well-educated or anyone who wants something better than average TV. Smart programming can connect with viewers, but it takes time for audiences to appreciate anything that’s different. However, over time, shows like “Seinfeld,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” grew from struggling shows to beloved and bankable hits.
At the moment, Peacock has a handful of originals that fit the realm of smart cult hits, such as the Craig Robinson vehicle “Killing It,” as well as plenty of sports programming.
But its most widely loved show is the comedy “Girls5eva,” a musical comedy starring Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry. The show, created by Meredith Scardino and produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, tells the story of a former pop group that reunited as adults to continue to chase the dream; hijinks and ridiculous song parodies follow.
It might not be a monster hit, yet, but it is by far both Peacock’s best show, and it’s most popular and acclaimed scripted series. It’s Peacock’s only show that inspires Twitter memes and that lands on Critics’ Best Of Lists and that has been nominated for an Emmy and a Television Critics Association Award.
But in a surprising move, Netflix has now picked up the third season, and will also share with Peacock the first two seasons. This is probably good news for the show, as now many more people will see it, and Peacock got some licensing money. But why would any streaming service essentially give their best show to their biggest rival? It needs more hits, not less well-liked shows. What in the fog of war is going on here?
This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened, as NBC decided it didn’t know what to do with absurd Fey/Carlock comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which starred Ellie Kemper, and sold it to Netflix. The move was seen at the time as a sign that NBC wasn’t sure how to market the sort of smart, off-beat comedy it used to specialize in, and the “Girls5eva” move is now prompting similar questions.
Is this one of those decisions that only makes sense if you’re in the thick of it? Or is NBC signaling that they are giving up making Peacock a brand with a distinct voice, and are content to just let it be the catalog of Universal while offering up nothing else? It might be too soon to deem Peacock the first major casualty of the Streaming Wars, but this decision isn’t boding well for the platform’s future.