There’s a regular ritual at my house most weeknights: It’s the rush home from work (usually later than planned), and once we’ve got the pets fed, the dog walked, and scrounged for something to eat, we’ll fire up Netflix or Hulu for some light-hearted dinner viewing.
Usually, it’s an episode of a sitcom like The Office or Parks and Rec — just something we can veg out to while we eat. Later we may dig into the latest drama or prestige show (currently Succession season 2), but there’s a sitcom shortlist we always return to when we just want something to throw on.
Sound familiar? It’s called comfort food television, and it’s what NBC (read: Comcast’s NBC) is banking on for its new streaming service, Peacock.
Comfort food viewing is big business for streaming services these days. Maybe it’s our vitriolic political climate, a yearning from coming-of-age viewers for a simpler time, or just the necessity in the age of information to shut our damn brains off, but zany sitcoms from the ‘90s and 2000s have never been more popular.
For proof, look no further than the unprecedented licensing deals that have been struck in recent years. Netflix famously paid $100 million to stream Friends — for a single year. Seinfeld went to Hulu for an estimated $130-150 million in 2015 and, as the streaming wars have accelerated into an all-out melee, Netflix just snatched those rights for half a billion dollars beginning in 2021. That’s a desperation move that stems from its loss of Friends (to AT&T’s new HBO Max service) and The Office (which goes back to NBC in 2021) in the near future.
It’s a veritable gold rush for nostalgia-laden sitcoms from yesteryear, suddenly thrusting NBC’s new streamer — which has to date been cast as yet another also-ran contestant in the most cutthroat competition in TV land — in prime position to compete with big dogs like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the forthcoming Disney+.
Why? Because NBC has made a lot of comfort food TV, and Peacock will be hosting a stacked list of ringers, letting subscribers mainline an IV-feed of Must See TV classics. While we don’t know just how many shows will be available at launch, the Peacock marquee will eventually include The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, Cheers, Frasier, Will & Grace, and The King of Queens, among others.
In addition, the service will host all 44 seasons of Saturday Night Live, and classic films from NBC’s Universal Studios banner, from Bridesmaids to Jaws, Dallas Buyers Club to E.T. (which would make for a pretty odd lineup if viewed in succession). Peacock will also host a litany of new and newish series and reboots, again hoping to play on our inherent longing for the past, including everything from an Office spinoff/revival to a reunion of the cast from Saved By the Bell.
Clearly, not everything on the list is going to be a hit, and much of Peacock’s success (along with many of its rivals) will depend on a mix of pricing and, more directly, just how many streaming services the average viewer can continue to support.
There are already far too many streaming services out there, and yet everyone from major film studios to tech behemoths seems to be banking on their service to be a hit as the industry churns out one after another with no end in sight.
We don’t know where it’s all leading, but it’s pretty obvious that not all these services can survive in the long term, and those that failed to establish a beachhead during streaming’s golden age like Netflix and its contemporaries could be on precarious ground as entertainment continues its course of ceaseless fragmentation. It’s not that megacorporations like Apple, Sony, Comcast, and others can’t continue to pour billions into these services to keep them afloat — it’s that they might not want to if it doesn’t pay off.
One of the most intriguing wrinkles Peacock will present, as recently mused by the Verge, will be its effect on Hulu. Once co-owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal, Fox, and Disney — and as such, fortified by a rich library of their respective TV properties — Hulu is now Disney’s alone, serving as the second fist in a one-two punch alongside Disney+.
Hulu will hold onto many of its licensed shows for some time, but in the not-too-distant future, it may have to rely almost solely on Disney content new and old, including Disney castaways that don’t fit its carefully cultivated brand — many of which will likely stem from Disney’s most recently acquired billion-dollar baby, 21st Century Fox.
This may open an opportunity for Peacock to fill the place of Hulu, which currently hosts just about every major nostalgia sitcom not streaming on Netflix. In addition, like Hulu, Peacock may be extremely affordable (as long as you don’t mind commercials) as NBC has revealed there will be a choice of either ad-based or commercial-free subscriptions.
Still, whether Peacock will supplant Hulu or become yet another loose batter in the infinite streaming dugout, there are tough times ahead in streaming land for all parties present and forthcoming.
Alongside Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, and CBS All Access, we’ll soon be tempted by the aforementioned Disney+, which hosts everything from Marvel originals to Pixar classics; HBO Max, a mix of Warner Bros.-owned movies and TV shows and HBO properties; Apple TV+ and its curated collection of A-list stars, and of course, Peacock.
And those are just the big ones.
Gone are the days when that big red “N” could fulfill most (or all) of your streaming needs, from comfort-food favorites to the latest prestige dramas and blockbuster films. It’s about to be a new world out there. The dream of simple and affordable on-demand TV that supplants the ills of cable has turned into something of a nightmare of choices that threatens to keep us scratching our heads as to which services are worth our increasingly stretched schedules and wallets.
NBC is banking on nostalgic longing and some seriously familiar faces to stand out from the ever-growing stampede. And given the current landscape, both inside and outside the TV screen, it’s not a bad bet.
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