The strategy behind online video services is expanding to marketing ploy. According to a report in The Information, Comcast’s NBCUniversal is considering launching a streaming service that would pay viewers to watch episodes of NBCU TV shows and web series—though none of the shows would be exclusive to the service.
In other words, you might catch an episode of This is Us, one of NBC’s biggest hits, or a segment of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York, which would, in theory, have you hankering to watch more of those shows on TV. Watch Back, as the service is called, would also feature content from outside web sites, but they would conclude with an ad for an NBC show. To entice people to watch the service, Watch Back would offer viewers points that they could then redeem for gift certificates.
It’s unclear if NBCU will actually launch Watch Back, but if it does, it offers an interesting model for a streaming service, one that goes beyond using it as a platform for paid (via subscription) original content à la Hulu, Netflix, or CBS All Access. It suggests that NBCU is not giving up on its traditional TV business anytime soon. Rather, it’s trying to come up with new ways to bolster it in a world dominated by streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon.
But this idea still doesn’t solve the problem that NBCU is behind in its streaming efforts and has so far had a poor track record in the format. Seeso, an online subscription serviced devoted to comedy that NBCU invested $75 million in, never got off the ground and was shut down last fall, after just 18 months. Watchable, an app launched by NBCU owner Comcast, which showcased popular web series from websites like BuzzFeed and Vice, also fizzled. Furthermore, it’s unclear what will happen to Comcast’s 30% stake in Hulu once the company becomes majority-owned by Disney (as a result of its acquisition of 21st Century Fox).
As NBCU searches for new online products, rivals like Disney are barreling head-first into streaming with a new ESPN+ app, and a family entertainment app that’s launching next year. CBS has been beefing up its CBS All Access service with content from talent like Jordan Peele. According to an earnings report last week, the service is growing faster than expected and the company projects that CBS All Access plus Showtime Anytime together are on track to reach 16 million subscribers by 2022.
The Information story cites a source saying that at NBCU “there is no consensus about what is the right strategy” for streaming. At this point in the game, NBCU better come to some consensus soon, lest it be left behind entirely in the streaming wars.