NBCUniversal Launches Peacock Premium Early for Comcast Subscribers; ‘Evaluating’ Moving up July Nationwide Launch

NBCUniversal has made a number of changes to its launch plan and will have fewer original shows, but says its advertising outlook remains strong.

The world has changed since Comcast's  (CMCSA) - Get Report NBCUniversal shared details about Peacock, its new streaming service, back in January. And the company is switching up its launch plan to accommodate a fast-changing environment for television streaming. 

On a press call on Tuesday, NBCUniversal executives outlined a number of changes to Peacock, which goes live on Wednesday for Comcast subscribers and on July 15 for the general public, resulting from the pandemic. 

One change is that starting Wednesday, Comcast subscribers will have access to an early version of its premium tier, called Peacock Premium, for no charge. For non-Comcast subscribers, Peacock Premium will cost $4.99 per month and goes live on July 15. 

"A quality streaming platform that is free is arguably more relevant now than at any other period in time," said Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises. 

Peacock comes in three versions: A free, ad-supported tier with limited content; Peacock Premium, which has a broader range of content and some ads and, as noted, will be free for Comcast subscribers and cost $4.99 a month for non-subscribers; and an ad-free Peacock Premium for an additional $5 per month. 

With millions of consumers at home, there's an overall appetite for more content -- and specifically, NBCUniversal is betting that comforting, "nostalgic" content that imparts a sense of normalcy and stability will have wide appeal in the coming months, according to Strauss. 

Comcast says it has seen a 50% increase in on-demand consumption year-over-year and voice remote searches for "free content" up nearly 250% in recent weeks. 

Peacock Premium includes more than 15,000 hours of series and movies, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Two and a Half Men, Yellowstone, the Law & Order brands, and movies like Jurassic Park and Shrek, in addition to a range of news programming and (eventually) professional sports. The Office also joins the service next year. 

The company is "evaluating" whether to move up its July launch to the public as well to meet the demands of a changing market, said Strauss. 

In the absence of the Olympics, NBCUniversal is working to fill the gaps with a mix of familiar and appealing content and news programming, and is planning to "test and learn" based on Wednesday's launch in the coming weeks. 

Also missing from Peacock at launch will be many of the original shows it had planned on debuting. 

Strauss said that the "majority" of its original production has been paused, and that it was too difficult to say when exactly those productions would resume. Peacock will include some original shows in 2020 that had presumably already been filmed, such as the sci-fi drama Brave New World

Peacock is launching with a slate of ten launch sponsors, which include Target  (TGT) - Get Report, Unilever  (UN) - Get Report, Capital One  (COF) - Get Report, Verizon  (VZ) - Get Report and others. 

Strauss said that he couldn't discuss specifics of the advertising deals, but said there was no impact to its launch sponsorships owing to coronavirus-related business uncertainty. 

“We do not see any degradation in the targets we had laid out with our advertisers,” he said, characterizing those deals as long-term commitments. 

Comcast plans to invest $2 billion in Peacock over the next two years, and expects that the service will begin generating a profit in 2024. It also set a target of between 30 million and 35 million active accounts by that time. 

Disney  (DIS) - Get Report recently surprised analysts by announcing it had already reached 50 million paid subscribers around the world for its streaming offering, Disney+, just a few months after launching in the U.S.

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