NBC has very publicly dismissed the notion that traditional TV is being threatened by cord-cutting, but the company is still building its own standalone streaming products, and a pattern is starting to emerge in its strategy.
Whether you believe that cord-cutting will destroy cable or not, companies from Verizon to HBO to Amazon are making big bets on “over-the-top” services. These services let you stream video without needing a cable package, digital antenna, or even a TV. Netflix is the most prominent example.
But even though the money is pouring in, a dominant model for standalone streaming services hasn't emerged, and deciding what type of product to build is especially difficult for TV networks that don’t want to undercut their main business.
Luckily for the networks, NBC has embarked on a natural experiment to test one model that is completely different from the all-you-can-eat Netflix library. The strategy relies on the idea of viewers being a fan of a particular “genre," and on the thesis that they’ll pay a per-month subscription fee to get their fill of it.
NBC has announced two separate streaming services in recent months that cater to “comedy” and “reality TV” respectively.
In January, NBC launched “Seeso,” a comedy streaming service that costs $4 a month. Though Seeso has original shows, its bedrock is NBC favorites like “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as an expansive library of “Monty Python” content. The New York Times called the originals available at launch “hit-or-miss,” and asserted that they weren’t must-see TV. But it's much too early to judge Seeso's success (or failure).
Then earlier this month, NBC announced it would launch another service, dubbed “Hayu.” This service will focus on reality TV, and will launch in March in the UK, Ireland, and Australia. NBC promises to add 500+ episodes to Hayu every year, including content from Keeping Up with the Kardashians, The Real Housewives, and Top Chef franchises. It will cost £3.99 in the UK, €4.99 in Ireland and $5.99 in Australia.
NBC’s head of research, Alan Wurtzel, recently argued that Netflix hasn’t had a big effect on viewing patterns. Netflix sniffed at the claim.
But NBC is clearly taking the “post-TV” streaming landscape seriously, and its current strategy shows that management believes “genre” is at least one way to make money on digital video without shooting themselves in the foot.