The Ratings Don’t Lie: Peacock Is Not The Right Place For The NFL Playoffs


For the first time ever, an NFL playoff game aired exclusively on a streaming service. While you might be inclined to believe said streaming service was Amazon Prime Video, who now has the exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football, you’d be mistaken. Rather, the game was broadcast exclusively on Peacock, Comcast’s struggling streaming service with losses of $2.8 billion in 2023. While Amazon Prime Video has over 100 million US subscribers, Peacock had just crossed 30 million by the end of 2023. Both naturally pale in comparison to the Comcast-owned broadcast network NBC, which would have aired the Miami Dolphins vs Kansas City Chiefs Wild Card game had Comcast not opted to make it a Peacock exclusive. 

The idea to put the game exclusively on Peacock, a streaming service that no longer offers a free tier, was not to make it easier for viewers to watch the game. Rather, airing the game exclusively on Peacock was a stunt meant to accomplish two goals. The first was to get new users to sign up for Peacock, regardless of how begrudgingly they were doing so. They second was to get existing users to watch the game on Peacock, again, regardless of how begrudgingly they were doing so. Comcast was not naive in this, advertising a half-off sale for a yearly subscription. 

The Peacock exclusive game was the least-viewed Wild Card game of the season, averaging 23 million viewers overall when factoring in both Peacock and the local NBC affiliates in the Miami and Kansas City areas. While NBC Sports boasted about it being the most-streamed live event in history, the game actually had less viewers on average than the afternoon game despite airing in prime time. That afternoon game, which saw the Houston Texans beat the Cleveland Browns by a score of 45 to 14, aired across NBC, Telemundo, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL+, and averaged 29.2 million viewers. Peacock’s Dolphins vs Chiefs game was closer in score and aired in a time slot with higher viewing levels, and still pulled in 6 million less viewers. 

The following night was the true test for Peacock. Comcast had the rights to the Sunday night NFL Wild Card game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions. The game, which was decided by just one point, was watched by 31.9 million viewers on NBC and 35.8 million across all platforms — including Peacock. The streamer’s simulcast received an unnamed portion of the 3.9 million viewers who watched the game on a platform other than NBC. Compare that to the Saturday afternoon game, where the streamer received an unnamed portion of the 2.9 million viewers who watched the game on a platform other than NBC or Telemundo. Multi-platform viewers accounted for 10.8% of the total audience on Sunday night, up a bit from the 10.0% on Saturday afternoon. 

What this means is Comcast was likely able to draw a few extra people to the Peacock simulcasts through the Peacock exclusive game. However, when given the option of watching an NFL game on either NBC or Peacock, viewers overwhelmingly chose NBC. People watched the Saturday night game on Peacock not because they wanted to, but because they had no other choice. The response to the Peacock exclusive NFL Wild Card game arguably proves what one would expect to be true: viewers don’t mind a regular season MLB game, or extended coverage of the Olympics, or even Thursday Night Football to be streaming exclusives. Just don’t mess with the playoffs. 

In using an exclusive NFL playoff game to lure people to sign up for Peacock, Comcast ran the risk of tarnishing the Peacock name before viewers even had a chance to decide if it’s a product they’d enjoy. Essentially, they took the infamous “all publicity is good publicity” approach and hoped it would work. This was risky, as despite its slow growth, Peacock does have some offerings that could prove to be popular with new subscribers. Their back catalog includes The Office, which was wildly popular both on NBC and on Netflix, and originals like Bel-Air and Poker Face have brushed the Nielsen Top 10s at their peaks. Season 2 of reality series The Traitors premiered the day before the NFL game and was the most-watched Peacock original reality premiere of all time. They’ve also carried exclusive coverage of the Olympics. Given the scope of the Olympics, Peacock was able to show exclusive events without taking away coverage from NBC and Comcast-owned cable channels. 

If there’s another Peacock exclusive playoff game next season, they’re going to have to offer a product markedly higher in quality than the one NBC would be able to provide. They tried this year with a commercial-free fourth quarter. Viewers need a reason to watch the game on the platform other than it being the only place to find the game. Given the negative audience reception Peacock received for this move, it’s hard to envision a rapid expansion of streamers holding exclusive rights to playoff games. Plus, local affiliates will likely fight to keep as many games on broadcast television as possible. Larger streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video don’t really need to use the NFL to get people to subscribe, while smaller ones like Paramount+ and Apple TV+ would probably face similar backlash to Peacock if they tried to air exclusive playoff games. While streaming simulcasts may become more heavily advertised in the future, streaming exclusives will be a tougher sell. 

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