Deeper Dive—Three questions after Comcast’s busy week

Is Peacock a bad name? (NBCUniversal)

A massive media conglomerate like Comcast/NBCUniversal makes news often but this week was particularly busy with an acquisition, a big name reveal and a major pricing overhaul.

On Saturday during the IBC Show in Amsterdam, word got out that Comcast had acquired Metrological, an application platform developer that integrates OTT video services and other content into the pay TV experience.

On Tuesday, NBCUniversal revealed that its upcoming ad-supported/subscription streaming service will be called Peacock. The company also unveiled a substantial lineup of licensed and original content including reboots of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Saved By The Bell.”

On Wednesday, Comcast said that Xfinity Flex, its streaming box/video service aggregator for internet-only subscribers, was dropping its price from $5 per month to nothing.

After absorbing all that news, we’re left with some questions.

What will the Metrological deal mean for RDK?

Pay TV operators have options when it comes to building new set-top boxes. They could put something together based on Linux, they could opt for Android TV or they could use RDK. But given the demand from consumers for streaming video apps alongside traditional video services, Android TV makes for a compelling choice with its built-in access to thousands of apps via Google Play.

Now that Comcast – whose own X1 platform is based off RDK – has bought Metrological, RDK could start to catch up a little. RDK Management already started an app program to make it easier to develop and launch apps across RDK-based set-top boxes. The program lets service providers use the new RDK App Framework to build and manage their own solutions, or choose an RDK pre-integrated app store solution, which is the Metrological App Store.

nScreenMedia analyst Colin Dixon, who broke the news of the deal, said that the agreement likely puts RDK in a better position to compete against Android TV.

“The combination of RDK and Metrological provides a much more credible option for operators against Android TV,” he wrote. “Though it is unclear how Comcast will manage Metrological if it has bought it, we should expect the bond between RDK and Metrological to become much stronger.”

Is Peacock a bad name?

NBCUniversal certainly broke the cycle of Plus and Max suffixes when it chose the name Peacock for its streaming video service launching in April 2020. But just because it honors a historic brand doesn’t necessarily make it a good choice.

While NBCU’s nearest rivals are banking on variations of their influential brand names (Disney+, HBO Max, CBS All Access, etc.), the company is going for a slightly more nuanced title. The company tried something similar before and it didn’t work out.

NBC is synonymous with many of the most beloved comedy series in history: “Seinfeld,” “The Office,” “Friends” and “Cheers,” among others. But when it came time to launch the company’s subscription streaming service focused on comedy, NBC went with Seeso as the name. After launching in January 2016, the service closed down about a year and a half later.

Certainly other factors contributed to Seeso’s demise. At the time, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar said the service relied too heavily on content that had worked on linear television. It also likely hurt losing Evan Shapiro, the NBC exec who oversaw the Seeso launch. But choosing a name that didn’t capitalize on the years of comedy goodwill built up by NBC probably didn’t help either.

Why did Xfinity Flex really ditch its $5 price tag?

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced Xfinity Flex’s price change at an investor conference Wednesday and said that making Flex free is about enhancing the value of his company’s broadband service. But he also described Flex as something “not many people have seen” and then proceeded to live demo the platform. When the CEO of the company is doing product demos, it seems clear that product needs a significant boost.

Flex certainly seems like a solidly designed product that enhances the overall broadband experience for Comcast subscribers. But the monthly charge for a streaming box – when compared with spending $30 once on a similar device from Amazon or Roku – probably didn’t sit well with consumers.

Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TV[R]EV, said there’s also an issue of unfavorable comparisons for Flex with other incoming services. Disney+ is only charging $7 per month and Apple TV+ is only charging $5, and both of those services are offering original content.

“I think there was pressure that there was not equivalent value,” he said.

On top of that, Amazon Channels, Apple TV Channels and the Roku Channel all offer similar aggregation services without carrying monthly fees.

Ditching the $5 per month charge for Flex was probably the best move and should help the service find a better footing with Comcast’s internet-only subscribers.