If you were asked to name the first movie or show that comes to mind with each streaming service, it’s pretty easy. With Netflix, you might think of “Squid Game” or “The Queen’s Gambit.” With Disney+, you’d think of “The Mandalorian.” With HBO Max, you might think of their same-day movie releases like “Dune” or The Snyder Cut of “Justice League.” But what do you think of when you think of Peacock? “The Office”? A sitcom that hasn’t had a new episode in eight years?
You’d be forgiven for struggling to identify another Peacock crown jewel. After all, “The Office” dominates Peacock's social media feeds. And that lack of new hits may explain why Comcast refused to share subscriber numbers in their Q3 earnings call today.
CEO Brian Roberts only said cryptically that Peacock “has maintained its momentum.” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Peacock added “a few million more” monthly active users and that the service is “way ahead of where we expected to be.” Actual data was lacking, but there was one number they did share: Peacock lost $520 million in the quarter.
Peacock is facing some extraordinary headwinds. It’s late to the game against some focused veteran players. People who do try the service tend to walk away - Peacock's churn rate is the highest in the industry.
Comcast is obviously a huge company, with products ranging from broadband services to theme parks to TV networks. The company is now making its own smart TV sets. So to Roberts, Peacock may have all the importance of a hood ornament. Comcast’s streaming loyalty is also torn because of their minority stake in Hulu, which is doing so well, it got some love in the earnings call as well. Peacock even poached Hulu's president earlier this month.
After a wobbly start, Peacock does show signs it’s willing to pivot. The service is expected to launch with a refresh early next year. It will also benefit as the exclusive home of newly released Universal movies, leaving HBO Max in the cold. Those new Universal movies will be available on Peacock for four months at the beginning and end of an 18-month window, while going to other distribution partners in between.
Peacock also has another chance to make a splash with the Winter Olympics. This year’s Tokyo Games were a strong driver of sign-ups, so we would anticipate a similar bump for Beijing.
Nothing is written in stone in the streaming wars, so Peacock’s early stumbles aren’t the end of the world. But until they have a slam-dunk title with mass appeal, it’s going to be an uphill climb.