Peacock reports weak subscriptions, implements changes to survive

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“I feel there's a symbolic tale in the decision to move one of [Peacock’s] shows ‘Girls5eva’ – that actually was Emmy nominated in 2021 – to Netflix,” says Kim Masters. The stars of “Girls5eva,” Sara Bareilles (left), Paula Pell, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Busy Phillips attend its season two premiere at the Roxy hotel in New York on May 1, 2022. Photo by Lev Radin/Reuters.

Major media companies are reporting on subscriber numbers for their streaming services in the third quarter. Netflix, had some recovery after losing almost 1 million customers in Q2, while Paramount+ grows to 46 million subs. And Peacock closes Q3 with 15 million paying customers. Kim Masters discusses with Matt Belloni the changes Peacock has implemented to survive. 

This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity. 

“Peacock hasn’t been able to get traction”

Kim Masters: When Peacock launched, they were ad-supported from the beginning, and it seemed like a good idea because we're now seeing everybody copy that: Disney+ is bringing in an ad supported [tier], even Netflix. But Peacock hasn't been able to get traction. It's at a disadvantage with most notable competitors.

Not cutting bait, Peacock is changing strategy 

Masters: I feel there's a symbolic tale in the decision to move one of their shows – that actually was Emmy nominated in 2021 – “Girls5eva” to Netflix. 

Matt Belloni: This is a pretty interesting development because people were waiting to see if Peacock would renew this show for a third season and it got renewed, but on Netflix. And it's an interesting deal because Netflix will air the new season exclusively, but it will share the previous two seasons with Peacock. 

This is a thing that Netflix has done over and over again. It's almost like a major league team looking at the minor league players saying, “Okay, what can we pick off and put in front of 225 million subscribers and make [it] big?” 

They did it with “You,” which was a Lifetime show, then left, went to Netflix and became big. They did it with “Cobra Kai,” which was a YouTube show for two seasons, then it became huge and Emmy nominated on Netflix. They did it with “Manifest,” which was a serialized show, and it went on Netflix and became huge. 

So [Peacock is] seeing this as an opportunity. It almost feels like they are not necessarily cutting bait, but they are changing their strategy.

The tricky transition to streaming 

Masters: There's a lot of pressure on this. All these companies are seeing the money that they used to get, that was so reliable, from their more traditional legacy businesses – network channels, cable channels – going down, down, down. 

The trick is to transition smoothly into streaming as those revenues decline. That's what David Zaslav has to do at Warner Bros. Discovery, and everybody who has any kind of legacy business in the media, has to do [that], except Sony, which isn't allowed to own any kind of channels because it's foreign-owned. 

So this is the transition they have to make.

Peacock invests in “comfort food” programming

 Masters: We've talked about [the] pressure on Comcast and NBCUniversal to get bigger, to make a deal, and this business with Peacock not working is only adding to that pressure. 

Belloni: [Peacock is] leaning into the kind of comfort food and the things that might generate an audience. The things that worked on Peacock are obviously NFL. They have Sunday Night Football, so that works there. They have Premier League Soccer. They have WWE. They did a deal this past week to bring a Hallmark-branded channel over to Peacock, to have more of those Hallmark movies and the kind of comfort food of Hallmark. 

So they're going more populous than trying to raise the Peacock boat by having other branded stuff there. This, to me, seems like they are going to do fewer of the originals and more prestige-oriented comedies and dramas that just don't seem to be working.

Masters: I'm just going to mention that “Girls5eva” is a funny show. It's a good show. It's got great talent. We had the showrunner Meredith Scardino in a previous episode, so I am happy for them that they have found a home. 

Maybe that's an upside to all of this, not so much for Peacock, but for people who like funny comedies.

Read more: Meredith Scardino made a fake CD with fake songs to pitch ‘Girls5eva.’ Now the show is real



Joshua Farnham