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NBC’s Peacock streaming service could be free with ads, like old-school TV

NBCUniversal finally gave its Peacock streaming service a name back in September, and now it appears that the decision to buck the “Plus” naming trend won’t be the only unique aspect to it.

Unlike Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, or other new and upcoming streaming services, Peacock could be made available free for everyone in an ad-supported model, according to a CNBC report. This would make Peacock the first free service of its kind among the major networks and streaming providers not tied to a cable subscription.

Set to launch in April 2020 with more than 15,000 hours of content that includes many of NBC’s hit series, Peacock was always expected to offer multiple tiers of subscriptions, including a lower-priced, ad-supported version akin to Hulu’s ad-supported tier. However, NBCUniversal is reportedly considering the use of an entirely free version of Peacock — and not reliant on a cable package — as a test to determine whether such a model can attract enough subscribers to be as financially viable as the subscription-based tiers.

If the report proves true, it seems reasonable to expect that NBCUniversal won’t be the only media company watching the experiment closely.

As the streaming wars continue to expand and evolve, streaming services have tried some interesting methods to tie their initial offerings to free or almost-free arrangements. Apple TV+ is free for a year to anyone who buys certain Apple products, for example, while Disney+ is offering the same deal for Verizon Wireless subscribers.

Making the entire service free and solely supported by ads, however, is a strategy that has typically only been used by much smaller streaming platforms. It’s also a strategy that harks back to a time when free, ad-supported television was the norm rather than a risky experiment.

Most major networks still provide free, over-the-air broadcasts of their programming in the traditional, ad-supported format, and NBCUniversal’s plan would seem to be an experiment in determining whether that could work in the streaming media environment, too. Although audiences would still need a cable internet or broadband subscription to stream Peacock, that would be the extent of the entry price.

NBCUniversal previously indicated that it would include between three and five minutes of advertisements per hour of programming in any ad-supported tier.

Of course, none of this means that NBCUniversal — and other networks, for that matter — are abandoning cable TV. Peacock will also be available via other tiers of service that could offer benefits for retaining a cable television subscription package, according to the report.

Certain content and other benefits could reportedly be part of a plan available only to pay-TV subscribers, particularly subscribers to NBCUniversal owner Comcast’s TV services. Whether those benefits would include some of the original programming NBCUniversal is creating for Peacock — including a new show from The Good Place creator Mike Schur and a Saved by the Bell sequel series — is unknown.

What is known, however, is that the service will offer the now-traditional, ad-free tier for subscribers in addition to any of the free or cable-reliant models.

At this point, NBCUniversal hasn’t confirmed or denied the report regarding a free, ad-supported version of Peacock.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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