The Price Point | NBC Affiliates Stabbed By Peacock Quill
NBC Universal’s announcement of its Peacock streaming service last week gained attention primarily because of its two-tier service, the lower of which is free. What did not receive much notice was a paragraph toward the middle that changes the fundamental nature of network television. It is a change NBC affiliates have good reason to be enraged over.
Starting in July, Peacock premium subscribers will be able to watch The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers live, hours before they air in their regular slots on NBC affiliates. Instead of the fresh product NBC stations now carry after their late newscasts, they will instead be airing reruns of shows that have already aired on Peacock. This is an outrageous breach of trust between Comcast/NBC Universal and the NBC affiliate body.
NBC has a long history of launching their cable products on the backs of the affiliate body. From their beginnings, both MSNBC and CNBC benefitted from network pushes, including direct appeals for consumers to change channels “for further developments.” Can we now expect NBC to do the same thing with Peacock?
I can see the promo now: “Tired of waiting up for Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers? Well, now you don’t have to wait. Switch to Peacock right now and see them live!”
Since the advent of Hulu, all networks have routinely posted programming on their on-demand channels immediately after affiliate airings, but the Fallon/Meyers decision creates a completely different ballgame. If NBC actually follows through with its plan, it is likely we will eventually see network programming routinely available on other platforms before it airs on the actual network. This has serious implications for the future viability of over-the-air network television.
The great irony about this particular announcement at this particular time is that NBC affiliate payments are now reported to be a greater source of income for NBC than is advertising. Those payments represent the majority of the fees NBC affiliates receive from cable and satellite systems in retransmission payments. Injuring the viability of NBC’s over-the-air network could cost the company far more in the long run than any gains from Peacock subscriptions.
Let’s hope for everyone’s sake NBC revisits this decision. An easy solution would be to carry the previous day’s Fallon and Meyers on Peacock. Let’s hope it chooses to do so. If not, NBC affiliates and owned stations should look for lower late news ratings starting in July.
Hank Price is a media consultant, author and speaker. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a handbook for general managers. He spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis. He also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.