The emergence of a vast number of streaming services in recent years seems to be catching up to the companies who’ve launched platforms intended to take on industry titans like Netflix and Disney.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Information reported that executives of NBCUniversal’s recently launched Peacock service have explored ways to boost its subscriber base, with the outlet adding that Peacock’s “monthly active ad-supported accounts” subscriptions number is around 11.3 million. That’s significantly lower than other streaming services—Disney+, for example, today reported 95 million subscriptions, while Netflix in January said it had surpassed 200 million.
The Information cited the Peacock ad-supported subscription figure as being included in an internal NBCUniversal presentation. In a statement to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for NBCUniversal characterized the figure as “inaccurate and low.”
One way that Peacock might grow its subscriptions would be to merge or bundle with another firm or service. The Information reported that NBCUniversal has pitched ViacomCBS about bundling with CBS All Access—soon to relaunch as Paramount+—at a discounted rate, a pitch that evidently piqued ViacomCBS’s interest for a potential offering in overseas markets. But the outlet also cited NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell, prior to taking his current position, as telling colleagues that the company would need to merge with WarnerMedia to remain competitive. The Information did, however, note that there’s no indication such a deal has been proposed and it’s possible that Shell’s position has changed.
ViacomCBS declined to comment on the report. A WarnerMedia spokesperson told Gizmodo the company would not be sharing comment.
Even still, the fact that smaller firms are exploring potential mergers to help their services better compete in the space comes as no surprise—particularly for legacy brands like CBS, NBC, and even Discovery, the latter of which NBCUniversal has approached about licensing, according to the Information, which cited people familiar with the talks. There is simply too much choice right now.
If Netflix and Disney are the de facto primary services to which subscribers pay a monthly fee to avoid cable, then that leaves little room for other services to squeeze their way in. At some point, the cost of maintaining multiple services will exceed what somebody would otherwise pay for cable, which doesn’t make a lot of economic sense for someone trying to cut the cord. There’s also only so much content that anyone can reasonably watch. Particularly for households on a budget, it makes more sense to subscribe to just a handful of services that provide value than it does to pay a large monthly fee to maintain subscriptions that aren’t being used.
But specifically which services might team up to try to win over subscribers is a pretty big question mark at this point. It would seem to make more sense for Peacock to partner with Paramount+ or Discovery+ than HBO Max—though, to be fair, sense didn’t seem to be all that important to the AT&T chiefs who appeared to believe that more is better when launching HBO Max, even if that risked tarnishing a legacy brand with confusing branding and even ads. There was a time when an HBO-NBC hybrid service would probably sound ludicrous. But that’s certainly not the case now, after WarnerMedia stuffed all of its assets into one mega-service, even though many of those entertainment properties do not exactly jibe.
There’s also the ads issue. Peacock is a service with two ad-support tiers: one for $5 per month and one that’s free. While services like CBS All Access and Discovery+ include plans with ads, as of right now, HBO Max does not. But by all indications, ads are coming and could arrive as soon as this year if the company follows through on those plans. If HBO Max executives did explore a merger, such a plan might involve making all the broadcast and licensed stuff ad-supported while shoving all the more premium projects behind a paywall. HBO Max isn’t exactly crushing it in the subscription department right now, either. So far, its activations number is just over 17 million.
All of this is to say, the mergers are coming. Nobody’s keeping a streaming service alive out of the goodness of their heart. At some point, somebody’s got to start making some money.
Added responses from WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS.