Peacock enters uncharted waters by streaming NFL playoff games

Peacock enters uncharted waters by streaming NFL playoff games

Saturday night, NBCUniversal will make media history. For the first time, a National Football League playoff game – featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins – will appear exclusively on a streaming service.

And at NBCUniversal’s offices in New York and Los Angeles, all executives are aware of the high stakes for the company and especially its streaming service, Peacock.

“There’s a lot to this game,” Peacock president Kelly Campbell said in an interview. “We feel that pressure.”

Pressure is coming from many fronts. There’s a technical challenge: First-round NFL playoff games routinely draw about 30 million people. Can Peacock, a service whose subscriber base is much smaller than rivals like Netflix, Disney+ and Max, handle huge traffic growth without facing embarrassing technical glitches?

There’s also the question of whether this would turn off viewers: For decades, playoff games have been free to watch on network television. Although the game will air for free on local television in the Kansas City and Miami markets, the only way for anyone else to watch it is to hand over $6, which is the monthly price for Peacock’s cheapest pricing tier.

And then there’s the important business issue: NBCUniversal executives paid more than $100 million for the game, and they’re doing it to attract more people to see Peacock. Will they be able to afford to subscribe month-to-month to a streaming service that lost nearly $3 billion last year? New customers can cancel right after the game.

Mark Lazarus, president of NBCUniversal Media Group, said, “Certainly with this kind of investment, we would like a lot of people to sign up and sample us.” “And then we’d like them to use the product a lot, and for a long time.”

Unlike many television genres, sporting events are still primarily broadcast on traditional network TV, and receive heavy ratings. Major sports leagues have dabbled in streaming — Thursday night NFL games are on Amazon Prime Video — but they haven’t made the full leap yet. Saturday night’s game will be the most major sporting event to be streamed exclusively to date.

NBCUniversal executives would not go so far as to call the game a “make or break moment” for Peacock. But it may come very close.

Peacock was a late entrant to the so-called streaming wars – it debuted in the summer of 2020 – and is only available in the United States. Most media analysts doubt that Peacock will ever be able to compete with Netflix and Disney+, the two largest streaming services. (Netflix has 247 million subscribers, and Peacock has 30 million.)

Still, the peacock is growing. The streaming service hit 10 million subscribers last year, and includes a back library of shows like “The Office” and “Law & Order: SVU,” as well as new episodes of the “Housewives” franchise and Bravo shows like “Vanderpump.” . Rule.”

Improvement has also been seen in peacock engagement. In November, the service accounted for 1.3 percent of television viewing time in the United States, more than Max, Paramount+ and Apple TV+, according to Nielsen. (Giants like YouTube and Netflix all dwarfed that — YouTube had 9 percent of watch time, and Netflix had 7.4 percent.)

Unlike Netflix, Peacock has also made live sports a cornerstone of its service. During one weekend in September, Peacock streamed 51 live sporting events, including seven simultaneously.

However, NFL playoff games are a much bigger proposition. And technical problems during live events are almost as old as streaming itself.

Years ago, HBO’s streaming service stopped working regularly During major episodes of hit shows like “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective.” Last year, Netflix only attempted to premiere a special episode of “Love Is Blind” for it to crashDue to which the company was forced to stream it a day after its scheduled debut.

That’s one reason why NBCUniversal executives, along with more than 1,000 people on their technical team, have been preparing for Saturday’s game since May.

For several months, NBCUniversal senior executives have held regular meetings to discuss whether the company was ready “from a technical standpoint,” Mr. Lazarus said. He said the blame for any hiccups during the game – even if caused by the cable provider – would likely fall “on our shoulders”.

Recently a dress rehearsal was also held. On December 23, Peacock exclusively streamed a regular season game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mr. Lazarus said he sat near his phone during the Bills-Chargers game and hoped the phone wouldn’t ring, because that would signal a problem. It never played. The company said the game peaked with 5.7 million concurrent devices using Peacock, the highest ever for the service.

Ms. Campbell, Peacock’s president, said the company was preparing for “five or six times” that number for playoff games — not only for the many people who will be watching football but also for those who want to watch something else. There must have been peacocks on Saturday night.

A huge influx of visitors creates another concern for Peacock executives: How do you handle hundreds of thousands of sign-ups over a concentrated period? A Peacock spokesperson said the peak period for people to sign up during the December 23 game was 10 minutes just before and after kickoff.

At the end of Saturday’s game, in a push similar to a lead-out show after the Super Bowl, NBCUniversal will begin directing viewers to “Ted,” a new Peacock series derived from the films of Seth MacFarlane. It’s about hate speech. Teddy Bear. Similarly, the Alan Cumming-hosted Peacock reality show “The Traitors,” which began as a modest hit last year, will begin streaming this weekend.

Whether those shows and Peacock’s entire library of content are enough to get millions of people to subscribe remains an open question.

And even though many in the media industry are skeptical, Ms. Campbell said she’s confident this won’t be Peacock’s last chance to try to convince prospective customers to sign up. After all, she said, the Summer Olympics, which will be broadcast on NBC and streamed on Peacock, are right around the corner.

“All this preparation and energy that’s going into it, it’s not a one-and-done thing — like, OK, we did all that work and all that work went to waste,” he said. “This will advance Peacock’s capabilities in the future.”

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