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Comcast's Peacock Struggles To Make A Streaming Impact

NBC’s streaming service reports strong revenue, but a low overall customer base.

Can a company launch a streaming network mostly on the back of episodes of “The Office’? This is only a somewhat exaggerated question, as that’s more or less the position Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report found itself in when launching Peacock a year and a half ago.

It turns out that the answer to this question is a qualified yes, more or less, but the end result isn’t exactly making Disney  (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report and Netflix  (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report executives miss any sleep.

Comcast launched its streaming service and app Peacock in the summer of 2020, which was obviously a strange and difficult time for everyone. 

But now that Peacock has had a full year in a somewhat more normal landscape to finds an audience, how did it do? According to Comcast executives’ recent 4th Quarter and Full-Year 2021 Results, it’s reaching viewers. But compared to its competitors in the ever-escalating Streaming Wars, it’s off to a slow start. 

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How Is Peacock Doing? 

Peacock has the majority (but by no means all) of NBCUniversal and Universal Televisions’ vast catalog of sitcoms and dramas. It also has both current and classic films, often from the Universal Pictures back catalog, which includes popular franchises such as “Boss Baby and the “Jurassic Park” films. 

While Peacock is mainly a hub for Universal content, the service has also made licensing deals with its rivals, as it has licensed the “Harry Potter” and “The Matrix” films from Warner Bros (which is owned by AT&T  (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report) for a time, and it currently has episodes of the hit drama “Yellowstone,” thanks to a deal with Paramount and ViacomCBS  (VIACA) - Get ViacomCBS Inc. Class A Report.

One of the ways in which Peacock stands out from the competition is that instead of just offering a free trial period, it offers three payment tiers, one of which is a free, advertiser-supported version. That version doesn’t include access to premium features like critically acclaimed Peacock originals like “Girls5eva,” or “Superfan” episodes of “The Office,” which are extended cuts of the popular sitcom with deleted scenes added in.

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From there, Peacock has a paid tier at $4.99 a month with limited ads and an ad-free plan at $9.99 a month. So how many people are signing up?

How Many Subscribers Does Peacock Have?

Peacock had a total of 24.5 million U.S. viewers at the end of last year, according to the fourth quarter report, which is the first total viewership number that Comcast has offered since the service launched. 

As far as people who give Peacock their hard-earned dollars, Peacock’s premium plans had 9 million standalone subscribers. Comcast also noted the cheaper tier is the far more popular option. Peacock also has 7 million subscribers that are included in various streaming bundles and cable packages that different service providers offer, though those customers generally don’t pay extra for the service.

Now, 24.5 million American viewers isn’t a disaster or anything, but when you consider the competition, it's not an auspicious debut. 

Netflix has 214 million subscribers, and Disney+ has 118 million total subscribers. HBO Max has 73.8 million subscribers. Jeff Bezos has boasted that Amazon Prime  (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report has 200 million subscribers, but considering that many people consider that service to be something that’s included as a free bonus when you sign up for Amazon’s expedited delivery services, critics have often contended that it’s actual viewership numbers are likely lower.

On the lower tier, Comcast is still partially invested in Disney’s Hulu, which has 43.8 million subscribers, and Paramount+ has been cagey about its viewership numbers, as ViacomCBS announced “total streaming subscribers of 47 million around the world," for its various streamers, but since that number includes Showtime, BET and Noggin, the total subscriber base for just Paramount+ is almost certainly much lower.

So clearly, there’s room for Peacock to grow and catch up with everyone else.

In the earnings call, Comcast revealed that Peacock “lost an adjusted $559 million for the quarter and $1.7 billion for the full-year 2021 on revenue of, respectively, $335 million and $778 million,” as reported by Deadline. That’s not a great number. But since Comcast as a whole is doing just fine, with fourth-quarter revenue of $30.3 billion, “up 9% from 2020,” no one is hitting the panic button just yet.