Matchweek 2 in the States was the “Weekend of the Peacock.” The relatively-new streaming service from NBC aired an unprecedented eight of ten Premier League matches this weekend, including Liverpool’s comprehensive win over Chelsea. The remaining two matches aired on NBCSN.
Few were eager to give the poor bird a chance. Complaints came flying on Twitter and Facebook, landing in one of two categories: issues with the feed and the perceived injustice of paying $5 a month to watch matches behind yet another paywall. I am here to sympathize with you on the first topic, but hopefully change your mind on the second.
Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge was my second crack at LFC match on Peacock, following last season’s July fixture at the Emirates against Arsenal. For Comcast XFinity subscribers (myself included), Peacock is built into your package, so I admit I was less aggrieved before kickoff than most. With a variety of ways to access the app, experiences were mixed. The feed through my TV was as smooth as Sadio; others suffered with a broadcast as clumsy as Kepa.
Deciphering whose issues are Peacock-related and whose issues are related to ISP/mobile service is tricky. Peacock is not at fault if you are watching on mobile in an area with limited service. Peacock is notably still not available for users of certain services, such as Roku; this is unfortunate, yet similar to how not every cable provider carries every available station. (Update: An email from Peacock announced Roku was joining their lineup shortly after this article posted.)
The most compelling complaints I saw were from former subscribers of NBC Sports Gold, Peacock’s pay-service predecessor. They should see no drop off in quality, so if that audience is watching a comparably worse product, Peacock has problems they need to address.
There is also an issue with streaming services that is not unique to Peacock – lag time. Yesterday’s match kicked off at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, but you likely heard the opening whistle several seconds – and in some cases well over a minute – after the start. I took the picture below during the countdown to kickoff. Using two different devices – TV and mobile – on the same home network, there was a 37 second discrepancy in timing. If you are a fan who likes to join the conversation on Twitter, or have a friend who immediately texts “MANE AGAIN!!!!!” after a score, this lag is a significant pain point.
Giving The Bird (a Chance)
While Peacock needs to take fan feedback and improve the service, many supporters could use some background on Peacock’s role in NBC Sports’ overall plans. Here is some added context based on commonly-heard gripes:
“Why so many games on Peacock this weekend! 2020 is hell on earth!”
A once-in-a-lifetime schedule of events came together this weekend on the NBC family of networks. With U.S. Open golf (originally scheduled for June on FOX); the final stages of the Tour de France (originally scheduled for July); and Notre Dame football (playing a game not on their schedule a month ago), this was the perfect time for NBC to go heavy up on Peacock. You might think Klopp vs. Lampard is a bigger deal than Frenchmen on bikes, but NBC’s contract with the Tour was set long before this season’s fixtures were announced.
“Liverpool-Chelsea! Liverpool-Arsenal! These are matches between prestige clubs that have won a combined seven European Cups! Why are they on Peacock?”
As I mentioned in this week’s look around the league, NBC is luring you in with top matchups in the hopes that you will stay for not-so-great matchups; a classic bait and switch. Despite the conflicts listed above, NBC could have put the champs and challengers on USA or MSNBC. But the Reds are part of Peacock’s strategy to attract eyeballs because the club has huge appeal among American fans. Take that as a compliment.
“Great! One more service for which I have to pay $5 a month, on top of ESPN+ for the FA Cup, CBS All Access for Champions League, LFCTV, Bleacher Report for Borussia Dortmund, HBOMax, and ArcticVision for penguins fighting each other with small swords. I can’t afford any more subscriptions!”
I may have made that last streaming service up, but you would definitely pay $5 a month to watch penguins fighting with small swords, right? NBC cannot help if you sign up for other services, and does not care as long as they’re getting your money for the Premier League. While you might condemn Peacock as a shameless money grab, forcing you to pay for games that used to be “free” – nothing that airs on pay cable is “free” – you should know that NBC could really use your $5 a month right now.
What? The giant broadcast behemoth needs my money?! Piss off. Well, times are tough for networks in the midst of the pandemic. According to Forbes, NBC is out an estimated $1.2 billion in advertising revenue after the Tokyo Olympics were pushed to 2021. Maybe they recoup that money a year from now; maybe the Olympics do not happen at all.
Have you seen the crowds at Florida theme parks this summer? How about the audiences for blockbuster movies? NBC parent company NBCUniversal witnessed a brutal drop in revenue, as significantly fewer guests are coming to hang with Harry Potter, and packed theaters for Universal Pictures premieres remain impossible.
So what if NBC takes it on the chin this year? A loss of revenue could impact how they broadcast matches moving forward. Maybe there are fewer total broadcasts. Maybe Arlo White, Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon call every match from a drab studio in London instead of the gantry at Anfield. Maybe cuts to production staff result in less experienced producers who miss key moments. While I am just speculating, when NBC loses a lot of money, there will almost certainly be an impact to your viewing experience
I love how NBC has handled Premier League coverage since 2013. If you came to the states from the UK or elsewhere abroad, your frame of reference may be English broadcasters you liked better. But if your frame of reference is other U.S. outlets, no one rivals NBC’s soccer coverage. The lone exception: ESPN’S World Cup coverage, which ended in 2014.
I watched the 1990 World cup on TNT and you know when they showed commercials? IN THE MIDDLE OF MATCHES! I would hate to see budget cuts reduce the quality of these great NBC broadcasts. I would hate for my son not to see himself live on TV, across from a handsome young Manchester City fan who is currently the club’s ninth-longest-standing supporter.
If you watch other sports in the U.S. regularly, you can appreciate NBC’s professional approach to coverage. They treat viewers like adults who know the sport, not some rube who needs to be bombarded with contrarian viewpoints that are argued just to get attention. NBC’s NHL coverage is also excellent in this regard.
Part of that professional approach is lead play-by-play man Arlo White. I think Arlo is fantastic. Among his many great calls of LFC goals, Mo’s screamer against Chelsea in 2019 still gives me chills. Arlo is a fun follow on Twitter and Instagram, where he’s documented the unique challenges that 2020 have presented. I don’t know Arlo personally, but I would love to buy him a beer. That beer would probably cost at least $5, maybe more if Arlo picked a premium craft beer.
So after all I have laid out, if you still cannot stomach the thought of paying for Peacock, just close your eyes and pretend you’re buying Arlo White a beer. Cheers!