One of the funniest moments of the last century went something like this. The year was 1995. I was at a cocktail party with some extraordinarily smart people, and we were talking about the newly launched cnn.com. During the conversation, one super successful, remarkably smart tax lawyer asked, “Is that available on Netscape?”
If you are scratching your head, wondering why this is funny (or even interesting), think about the date. Netscape was launched in 1994; AOL had existed since 1985. Prior to 1994/5, most things you could find online felt like they existed on channels (like television). AOL had keywords, as did Compuserve and Prodigy (remember them?). At the time, the metaphor for channels was super strong in America: no matter the level of intellect, it was reasonable for people not to understand the nature of the web (then always referred to as the World Wide Web) or the Internet.
Fast forward to yesterday. Peacock, Comcast’s new streaming service, announced its pricing plans and service offerings. It will be available for free with advertising embedded (you pay with your personal data; not just viewing habits, but all the data that can be gathered from your behaviors), or pay up to roughly $10/month to remove the ads (but you’ll still pay with your personal data). There is no plan where you don’t offer your data to Comcast in exchange for the service.
But this isn’t 1995. It’s 2020. No one is going to mistake Peacock for the entire “internet.” So… what is Peacock? Is it an adjunct business designed to supplement Comcast’s broadcast and cable TV business? Is it a new platform designed to serve a trailing edge millennial and Gen Z audience? (Clearly not, but I’m busy asking questions.) Is it a nice wrapper and better brand name for the Xfinity app? (Also no, but stay with me.) Is it an answer to the upcoming, clearly overpriced, HBO Max? Is it a response to Apple TV+ or YouTube TV? If I want to watch a show, will I go to Peacock as my “portal” to the world of video?
Is Peacock a solution in search of a problem? Maybe. But it would help to define that problem.
If you’re over a certain age, television has channels and those channels are brands. MTV stands for music television. Food Network stands for food. HGTV stands for House and Garden Television, ESPN stands for sports, etc. Of course, these brand promises are no longer true. Today, the shows are only loosely associated with the topical names of the channels. But without cross-channel tune in advertising and promotion, no one knows what NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox are supposed to stand for. Said differently, what are the brand promises of the 3.5 traditional networks? People watch shows, not networks. This is only a problem if you sell advertising on a network. If you’re below a certain age, 100 percent of everything above this sentence is meaningless.
Websites don’t care what browser you use to view them. Owners of video content care deeply about the player you choose to view them through. This is a non-trivial difference that has exceptional ramifications regarding the future of “video portals.” (If that’s even what you’d call Peacock or any other AVOD service.)
I have yet to see one shred of research that says that Gen Zers or Millennials have any issue finding what they want to watch. There are no channels, no holding companies, no overlords; there are just shows they learn about and like, and there are other shows they ignore.
There was a time when everyone thought they needed to build a “portal” or a “front door” to the internet. That idea seems archaic today. My suspicion is that, in a very few years, we will look back on 2019/2020 and wonder… was that available on _____? And laugh about it.
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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.