NBCUniversal's Peacock is unlikely to reach deals with Amazon and Roku by July 15 launch

Key Points
  • NBCUniversal's Peacock is unlikely to reach a deal with either Amazon or Roku before its national July 15 launch, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • The sticking points include issues over control of user data and sharing of advertising inventory.
  • The deals between subscription video services and digital video platforms will provide the groundwork for the next generation of television.
A peacock is pictured outside NBC headquarters at Rockefeller Center in New York, January 16, 2020.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

NBCUniversal's subscription video service Peacock is unlikely to reach an agreement with Amazon or Roku before it launches nationally on July 15, according to people familiar with the matter.

Without a deal, Roku and Amazon Fire TV users won't have access to Peacock's content, which includes TV shows such as "30 Rock," "Saturday Night Live" and "Friday Night Lights" and movies such as "Jurassic Park" and "Reservoir Dogs."

Peacock continues to negotiate with both Amazon and Roku, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. One person familiar with the talks described the likelihood of reaching an agreement with either party by July 15 as "less than 10%." 

The issues under negotiation present a window into what's important to media and technology companies as they build an infrastructure for the next generation of television. While programmers and pay-TV distributors — cable, telecom and satellite TV companies — have successfully negotiated carriage deals for decades, subscription video services are striking their first deals with digital video aggregators, such as Apple, Amazon and Roku.

Both providers and content companies want to ensure they're building viable business models, especially as Wall Street judges overall corporate performance on the success of their streaming video initiatives. These deals, which typically cover multiple years, will be the backbone for streamers to reach profitability in the coming years.

Roku and Amazon Fire TV, the two largest connected TV platforms, make up about 70% of the connected TV market, according to eMarketer. There are about 400 million internet-connected TV devices in U.S., and about 80% of U.S. TV households have at least one internet-connected TV device, according to a June report from Leichtman Research Group. 

Both Roku and Amazon have also failed to strike a pact with AT&T's HBO Max, which launched May 27.

Spokespeople for Roku, Amazon, HBO Max and NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of CNBC, declined to comment.

Control over user data

Peacock and HBO Max are wrestling with Amazon on issues regarding who controls user information.

NBCUniversal executives don't want Peacock to be included within Amazon Channels, Amazon's store for video app purchasing, two of the people said. While some streaming apps, such as CBS All Access and Starz, can be purchased through Channels, others, including Disney+, cannot. Amazon takes a percentage of revenue for each customer that subscribes through the store.

Both AT&T and Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, are pushing back on Amazon because of its deal with Disney, which was struck in November, according to people familiar with the matter. Disney's deal with Amazon allowed Disney+ — a new streaming service at the time — to appear on all Amazon Fire TV devices while keeping it out of the Amazon Channels store. That decision forced customers to sign up and watch all programs directly through Disney+, giving the entertainment company a direct, one-to-one relationship with its customers.

Like Disney, NBCU wants all users to sign up and watch through the Peacock application or website. That would give NBCUniversal valuable credit card information and first-party user data, including information about the shows and movies that users watch. This data can then be used for targeted advertising, allowing Peacock to charge advertisers higher rates. The downside for NBCUniversal is that Channels distribution can help broaden reach and awareness for Peacock.

HBO Max is willing to be included in Amazon Channels, according to a person familiar with the matter; HBO's solo app already is. But HBO Max doesn't want Amazon to let users watch its shows from directly within Amazon Prime Video, the person said. Instead, WarnerMedia executives want users to be kicked into the HBO Max application. This would give HBO Max more control over the user experience — for instance, the company could recommend other HBO content while users are watching a show — as well as data that can be used to target ads. HBO is planning on launching an ad-supported product in 2021.

"We remain committed to making HBO Max available on every platform possible to as many viewers as possible so they can enjoy beloved shows from HBO, favorites from the Warner Bros. movie and TV library and a diversity of hit programming exclusive to HBO Max," a WarnerMedia spokesman said in a statement. "We look forward to reaching agreements with the few outstanding distribution partners left, including with Amazon and on par with how they provide customers access to Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu on Fire devices."

Ad inventory sharing

Peacock's sticking points with Roku revolve around the sharing of advertising inventory, according to people familiar with the matter.

For years, Roku has been building an advertising business by taking a slice of advertising inventory from each of the streaming applications it distributes on its platform. Roku's standard is to take 30% of available ad inventory to sell itself, one of the people said. Roku also takes a standard 20% cut of apps bought through Roku Channels and any pay-per-view video.

Roku's carriage agreements vary depending on popularity and advertising availability. For applications that will likely entice tens of millions of users, the percentage cut on ad inventory is often lower than 30%, according to people familiar with the matter. Negotiations with Peacock have centered around a number closer to 15%, one of the people said. NBCUniversal has estimated Peacock will have up to 35 million users by 2024.

Still, Peacock's ad sales staff wants to keep as much inventory as possible for itself. One possible remedy under consideration is to give Roku additional inventory for NBCUniversal's older, existing TV Everywhere application, two of the people said. NBCUniversal may also be willing to give Roku access to certain less-popular content while keeping ad inventory for more popular shows and movies, the people said.

NBCUniversal estimates Peacock will generate average revenue per user, or ARPU, per month of $6 to $7. This is an aggregate total for NBCUniversal's three tiers of Peacock — the free tier that will make money solely from advertising, a $4.99-per-month tier that will have a more robust content offering but still include some ads, and a $9.99 tier with no advertising.

NBCUniversal Chairman Steve Burke said last year Peacock will air between three and five minutes of ads per hour of programming, and NBCUniversal expects to make $5 per month from every user on the service from advertising, he said. NBC's research showed subscribers prefer free services with low ad load, Burke said.

But that $5 per user number could be in jeopardy if NBC gives away its inventory to platforms. Amazon also wants a cut of advertising inventory, one of the people said. 

Legacy media companies such as NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia can present difficult negotiations for Roku because they're used to a fixed amount of advertising inventory in a TV world, one of the people said. In linear TV, with only so much advertising time available, any losses in advertising can't be made up. Roku has argued to both companies that streaming video is fundamentally different — there is an infinite number of shows available at any time, each of which can contain targeted ads, and its audiences are generally growing while linear TV audiences are shrinking. As more people sign up for Peacock or HBO Max on Roku, advertising opportunities will grow in tandem. 

There's also a technology issue at play. NBCUniversal is hesitant about connecting Peacock with third-party ad tech software it can't control, according to people familiar with the matter. Both NBCUniversal and Warner own proprietary advertising technology. 

A game of leverage

Ultimately, both sides will benefit from reaching an agreement. Roku and Amazon will get revenue from including more applications with a broader choice of shows, and HBO Max and Peacock will get broader distribution. But the timing may come down to which party has more leverage.

Both NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia are reluctant to rush into distribution deals when coronavirus quarantines have shut down production of new programming, potentially diminishing immediate consumer demand. Limited original programming slates may cause many users to delay signing up for both services until Hollywood opens again. Peacock will also get a boost in 2021 when it gets exclusive rights to "The Office," one of the most popular shows on Netflix. NBCUniversal and HBO Max may also feel support from each other in holding out for better deal terms. 

Then again, waiting too long may allow millions of potential viewers to become comfortable with other streaming options, which could lead to habits that don't include HBO Max and Peacock. 

Ultimately, at least Roku has said it expects to get a deal done with Peacock.

"We're an essential partner for any streaming services trying to build a national audience in United States," Roku CEO Anthony Wood said in February. "So, I think it would be natural to assume that there will be some sort of deal down there."

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of both Peacock and CNBC.

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