Premier League takes pride of place on Peacock as NBCU’s key weapon in streaming wars

(Credit: NBCUniversal)

  • NBC Sports’ premium live sports rights viewed as important differentiator in digital landscape
  • After successful trial, NBC Sports Gold’s Premier League Pass package moved exclusively to Peacock
  • “We know having the Premier League exclusively gives us an advantage,” says Rick Cordella

NBCUniversal is actively looking to utilize NBC Sports’ premium properties – specifically the English Premier League – to attract subscribers to its new streaming service Peacock and help differentiate the platform from its rivals in the crowded and competitive direct-to-consumer video marketplace.

Peacock, which is named after NBC’s iconic logo, is NBCU’s entrant into the US digital landscape which contains established streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, as well as recent arrivals CBS All Access, Disney+, Apple TV+, Quibi and HBO Max.

The platform offers more than 20,000 hours of programming, with content spanning TV shows, movies, live sports and news, late-night comedy, and original content. That content draws primarily from NBCU-owned networks NBC, Bravo, USA Network, Syfy, Oxygen, E!, CNBC, MSNBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel and Universal Kids, as well as Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, Focus Features, and Illumination.

In addition, Peacock has licensed movies and TV shows from A&E, ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, History, Nickelodeon, Showtime, ViacomCBS, Paramount, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., and Blumhouse.

Following a soft launch for some internet and cable customers of parent company Comcast, the ad-supported platform debuted nationwide on July 15 with three tiers of service: Free, Premium, and Premium Plus.

The Free tier includes more than half the programming hours on the service, while the Premium tier costs $4.99 a month and gives subscribers access to original films and series, as well as top-end live sports such as the Premier League, US Open golf, the National Football League, Ryder Cup, the Tour de France, and the Olympic Games. For customers who want to opt out of commercials, Peacock Premium is also available in an ad-free tier for $9.99 per month.

To help distinguish itself from other streaming platforms, Peacock offers curated themed virtual channels via program guides commonly found on cable and satellite systems. These channels are designed to help users overcome “choice fatigue” and to keep them on the service for longer.

The free NBC Sports on Peacock channel, for example, streams daytime live sports talk programming, including PFT Live with Mike FlorioThe Dan Patrick ShowThe Rich Eisen ShowBrother From Another (Peacock’s first original sports talk show) and PFT PM.

Peacock has proven an immediate success with 10 million sign-ups attracted as of Comcast’s last quarterly earnings report. More recently, Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts said on September 15 that Peacock sign-up number has grown to 15 million.

NBCU hopes Peacock will have 30 million to 35 million monthly active accounts by 2024. Rival service Disney+, by comparison, has surpassed 57 million subscribers, buttressed by popular content franchises such as Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel.

But Peacock executives remain bullish on the integration they are deploying from across the NBCU portfolio, and say the streaming service remains one of the top corporate priorities for Comcast.

“It’s probably one of the top priorities of the company, not just NBCU but Comcast, and we see that support throughout,” Rick Cordella, Peacock’s executive vice-president and chief revenue officer, tells SportBusiness.

“If you watch NBCU content, both broadcast and cable, it’s likely you’ve seen our advertising quite a bit – maybe to a certain heightened level – over these last few months. That should be a pretty good indication that we believe in it, we are putting money and resources behind it,” he says.

In May, NBCU announced a major company restructuring that has created a new division, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming which is headed by senior executive Mark Lazarus as chairman. Lazarus is continuing to oversee the NBC Sports Group.

And it is crystal clear that premium live sports content is extremely important to the development and growth of Peacock.

“We’re not naive. We’re launching into a fairly competitive landscape and we know having the Premier League exclusively gives us an advantage because those fans are going to have to watch Peacock this season to watch their favorite teams. We look at that…with users in the hope that they stick around to not just watch Premier League content and the shoulder programming but also the entertainment and news content, and originals that we’ll offer throughout the year,” Cordella says.

Specifically, it is hoped that Peacock’s exclusive live sports content will help differentiate the platform from its main rivals.

“We’ve always said from the very beginning that Peacock is trying to be a little bit different than a typical [streaming service] out there,” Cordella adds. “I think we’re uniquely positioned too to some degree from some of the digital-only companies that are competing in the space because we have a great NBC Sports department that has access to these rights, we can take and do a deal like the Premier League where our content can live across broadcast, cable and Peacock. That doesn’t happen elsewhere.”

NBCUniversal executives also have been encouraged by Peacock consumption patterns that thus far have exceeded internal corporate projections.

“Not only are more people signing up than we projected, but they are watching more frequently and engaging much longer than we projected,” said Jeff Shell, NBCUniversal chief executive, during a recent Comcast earnings call.

Premier League pivot after Olympics postponement

Peacock was intended to launch shortly before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to provide a complementary streaming service for the Summer Games, which is one of the crown jewels in NBC Sports’ programming portfolio.

The platform was due to feature live coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies before they aired on NBC in prime time, as well as three daily shows, Tokyo LiveTokyo Daily Digest, and Tokyo Tonight.

However, the postponement of the Games due to the global Covid-19 pandemic forced NBCUniversal – which had recorded a record $1.25bn in US ad sales for Olympics – to pivot its initial live sports content on Peacock towards the Premier League.

Serendipitously, the Premier League was being held in the summer after the tail-end of the 2019-20 season had been delayed by the health crisis, providing an opportunity for NBC executives to capitalize on.

Ahead of the nationwide rollout in July, it was announced that Peacock would initially carry seven matches which were simulcast on NBC Sports Gold’s Premier League Pass subscription service, starting with Bournemouth v Crystal Palace on June 20.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Following the success of this trial, and further conversations with NBC Sports and the Premier League, it was announced that Peacock would exclusively present NBC Sports’ full Premier League match and studio coverage for free as part of its national launch on July 15.

In an attempt to promote the product and attract additional subscribers, Peacock aired all four games scheduled that day as well as the studio programming that was due to be aired on cable channel NBCSN. Those fixtures were the 1pm ET games featuring Burnley v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester City v Bournemouth, and Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur, followed by the showpiece Arsenal v Liverpool game at 3.15pm ET.

“The fact that the [Premier League] schedule got postponed because of Covid and came back when it did, it represented an opportunity for us,” Cordella says. “What is a better way to draw attention and users into this than to offer those games exclusively on Peacock that day? The Premier League, which has been a great partner of ours for many years, was open to it and we executed and it worked out really well for us.”

According to Cordella, a “significant” number of Peacock users came to the platform specifically because of the exclusive Premier League games on launch day.

Shifting Premier League Pass to Peacock

Shortly afterwards, NBC Sports announced it would move all non-linear TV Premier League games exclusively to Peacock, representing more than 175 games in total per season, beginning with the 2020-21 campaign.

In turn, Premier League Pass was shut down, with its entire content shifting to Peacock. Included are full-event replays for all 380 matches on-demand (after 9 pm ET), as well as additional shoulder programming.

Cordella explains: “It ultimately made more sense that there is this halo effect on Peacock than maybe did not exist on the NBC Sports Gold vertical. I think it’s a more strategic use of Premier League content to get people into the Peacock ecosystem.”

Cordella believes the switch also offers far more value to Premier League fans, who paid up to $64.99 a year for the NBC Sports Gold package. Peacock Premium, which offers far more content, has been offered for as low as $30 a year.

“Users in the past were paying a certain amount of money for the NBC Sports Gold vertical and they got Premier League coverage. Now they still get that on Peacock but they also have a wealth of 20,000-30,000 others hours of other entertainment content,” Cordella says.

The main NBC network and cable channel NBCSN will still broadcast the majority of the league’s higher-profile matches.

However, in perhaps a sign of things to come, NBC Sports recently announced that a number of top-tier Premier League games would be made exclusively on Peacock in September to drive subscription growth. These games were Tottenham v Everton on September 13, Chelsea v Liverpool on September 20, Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester City on September 21 and Liverpool v Arsenal on September 28. Others have followed.

Cordella admits there is a tricky balance in trying to attract subscribers to Peacock while also appeasing fans who pay cable subscription fees to watch games on NBC and NBCSN.

“It’s a tough balance as there is only so much content to go around,” Cordella says. “By no means is the launch of Peacock mean that we don’t believe in pay TV. It’s quite the contrary. We do believe that there are ways that this content can live across the three different facets of our business: broadcast, cable and Peacock.

“We’ll basically adjust the qualitative level of those games and the scheduling on a week-to-week basis based on what the data is suggesting to us. You’ll certainly probably see a more quality schedule than Gold had in the past, you can see that in the first few weeks and we’ll probably continue some of that. But that doesn’t mean that Peacock will have all the better games,” he says.

Tokyo 2020 delay could prove advantage

Although the Tokyo Olympics was intended to be the “coming-out party” for Peacock, as Cordella puts it, the delay to the Games is hoped to ultimately work in NBCU’s favor.

“We’ll have a better product [in 2021], we’ll have a better content portfolio. I think that as we market it to our primetime audiences on NBC, people that come to Peacock will see a fuller platform than they would have seen in 2020,” Cordella says. “So I do hope that means we capture a higher percentage of people and keep them around longer and long after the Olympics is over. So it may end up being a benefit for us overall.”

Beyond the Premier League and the Olympics, Peacock’s sports coverage will be expansive. Following the National Football League’s expansion of its postseason to 14 teams for the 2020 season, it was announced that NBC’s additional wild-card game will be simulcast on Peacock.

Meanwhile, when NBC Sports acquired the United States Golf Association’s domestic media rights from Fox Sports in June, in a deal which includes the US Open men’s golf major, it was revealed that the network would also incorporate Peacock in its coverage plans, alongside broadcast and cable coverage.

This includes two hours of live coverage for each day of this week’s US Open at Winged Foot, New York, as well as featured holes and featured groups of players.

This is a strategy that NBC Sports is likely to follow going forward with new rights deals, as NBCU looks to continue to grow Peacock.

“There are some sports that are broadcast-specific sports. I don’t think every sports rights deal that we have will have a Peacock component, that might be too extreme,” Cordella says. “But I do know that we’ll sit down when rights come up and discuss internally and probably with the league partner about what makes sense on Peacock.

“There could be instances where we have original programming around content, so we may not have Nascar on Peacock but we have Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Lost Speedways show that attracts a Nascar audience. Hopefully we’re tapping into those fanbases that exist within the NBCU portfolio to supply them with content that if it’s not live content, it’s shoulder programming or original content that would hit their interest profile,” he says.

As such, NBCU is unlikely to put an entire sports-rights property on Peacock to ensure that it remains a complementary product to NBC’s linear and cable channels.

“The benefit of us is working with NBC Sports and advertising our properties across our three pillars of platforms. I would never say never but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to look holistically at a property and see how best to execute,” Cordella says.

As with Premier League Pass, it is possible that other NBC Sports Gold subscription packages could migrate to Peacock.

Going forward, Cordella is confident that as Peacock improves and expands, it will help NBCU successfully navigate the increasingly competitive streaming landscape.

“We want Peacock to be a platform that people will tune into when news breaks, when a great movie is available to them on our platform, when there is a great season available to them, like The Office which is coming on January 1,” he says. “The Olympics is coming next summer, that will be a unique thing that is available to us on Peacock and NBCU and how we drive users into our content.”

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