NBCUniversal launches free Peacock streaming service for Comcast customers

NBCUniversal begins the limited rollout of its Peacock streaming service today for customers of its parent company Comcast even though the coronavirus has indefinitely delayed production of original programming.

Peacock will still be able to reach more than 10 million Comcast subscribers, but its initial ambitions remain modest as it enters a market that has already seen a rush of new streaming services in recent months. To counter this competition, Peacock initially will offer a very different model: free and supported by advertising.

The arrival of Peacock is the latest sign of how the shift to on-demand streaming continues to accelerate. That transition has accelerated during the coronavirus lockdowns as the time spent streaming video has soared.

In that sense, Peacock’s timing could be good. It follows by just over a week the arrival of mobile video streaming service Quibi, which reported 1.7 million downloads of its app during the first seven days.

Meanwhile, the Apple TV+ video streaming service, which launched last November, announced this week that it would expand free access to some of its premium originals for anyone with an Apple ID. And Disney+ said it had passed the 50 million subscriber milestone.

All of these streaming services are trying to catch the leaders in subscription video streaming such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. And in doing so, each has distinct business models driving their platforms and pricing.

Apple has tried to jump start its service by offering a year free to buyers of new gadgets. Disney+ offers a free trial week before charging charging $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Quibi is counting on a partnership with T-Mobile to springboard its customer acquisition efforts.

Peacock, however, may be offering one of the more convoluted propositions, recognition that it faces the delicate task of entering a new world while still trying to balance its traditional TV and cable models.

While initially free with ads to a limited base, the plan is to roll it out nationwide on July 15. At that point, Comcast cable subscribers can pay $5 per month for an ad-free version. For non-Comcast customers, the ad-supported service will cost $4.99 per month, and the ad-free service will cost $9.99.

There will also be a Peacock Free tier that has ads and about half of the service’s content. And for now, it appears Peacock will only be available in North American markets. Much of that legacy content is tied up overseas in a thicket of deals that could take years to unwind.

That content includes some huge titles, including shows such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Law & Order: SVU,” and its various late night shows. The movies include “Shrek,” “Jurassic Park,” and “E.T.” Viewers will have to wait until 2021 for the “The Office.”

More problematic, Variety reports that work on many originals for Peacock have been pushed back until 2021. That probably won’t matter for the initial rollout this week, but it’s harder to predict for the broader launch this summer, which had been timed to benefit from marketing efforts around the now-delayed Olympics.

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