Wolk’s Week in Review: Peacock adds NBC affiliates, CNN missing from FAST Election Night coverage

Wolk's Week In Review

1.  Peacock Adds NBC Affiliates

Peacock announced that they would be carrying full live coverage from all of their 210 local affiliates and owned-and-operated (O&O) stations on Peacock’s $10/month premium tier.

The deal means that viewers will see the full live feed from each affiliate, including local news and weather and whatever syndicated shows they are broadcasting.

The plan puts them on an equal footing with Paramount+, which has had a similar deal for its affiliates and O&Os for a while, but again only for those subscribing to its top tier service.

That leaves ABC and FOX stations out in the cold, but more than that, it raises the question of can all those local broadcasters survive in the long term without their retrans fees?

Why it matters

A quick refresher—retrans or retransmission fees are what MVPDs and vMVPDs pay local broadcasters for the rights to retransmit their broadcasts. This came about via the Cable Act in the early(ish) days of the industry, when cable company operators were pretty much screwed if they did not have every local broadcast station on offer.

These fees literally create billions of dollars of revenue for broadcasters, which is why the broadcast networks were so unhappy about services like Aereo that promised to make retrans fees obsolete, pursuing the case against them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the same time, the media companies that own the big broadcasters all realize that the future is streaming, and that despite Hail Mary attempts like ATSC 3.0, any sort of non-streaming viewing will eventually go the way of the 8-Track. And that while that fade-out is likely to take the better part of a decade if not longer, it is irreversible. 

The ultimate resolution of this trend hit many broadcasters like a two-by-four to the head when rumors emerged that NBCU was thinking of eliminating their 10pm prime time hour, followed by further speculation that all of the major broadcasters were going to eventually bring their prime time programming over to their streaming services.

Which pretty much left the local broadcasters feeling more like dinosaurs than 8-tracks.

The question of what will become of local broadcast stations at a time when all TV is delivered digitally is one that will likely be decided by some combination of Congress, the courts and the FCC. It’s a tricky political issue, given the importance of having strong local media outlets and the amount of regulation surrounding broadcast stations that has been promulgated over the years by the FCC, almost all of which predates streaming, much of which predates cable.

So there’s that.

I have heard many theories over the years, mostly around the media companies buying out their affiliates for the rights to their local news operations, which sometimes includes paying the local affiliate to run said news operation. There are multiple holes in all of the theories I hear, so it’s not worth diving into them, at least not until everything is sorted out from a legal and regulatory perspective.

What you need to do about it

If you are Disney and Fox, you might want to think about adding your local ABC and Fox stations too, via Hulu and Tubi. 

If nothing else, it puts them on an equal footing with their CBS and NBC rivals and gives you something else to upsell viewers on.

It also makes it easier for viewers to cut the cord and for enterprising companies to create bundles starting with the premium version of all four streaming services— at $10/month each, that’s only $40 for all the broadcast networks, without any sort of bundle discount, plus whatever additional streaming services you’d want to add on. 

(Yes, I know there is not currently a paid version of Tubi. But for sake of argument, assume there is a $10/month version that gets you all the local Fox stations.)

If you’re an analyst [RAISES HAND], I’m sure you’d also love to know how many people are actually watching their local stations on streaming and how much of that viewing is the local evening news and how much is live sports.

If you are a broadcast station owner, it’s a tough time right now. Build your station’s brand, work with companies that can help your ad sales team extend your reach into streaming by targeting local viewers on the various FASTs, and take heart from the fact that this is unlikely to be resolved for at least another decade. Or two.

2. CNN Missing From FAST Election Night Coverage

So as a thought experiment of sorts, I took a look at what my options were if I wanted to stream Election Night coverage for free, no cable subscription needed. I was looking specifically for live feeds from major national cable or broadcast networks only, so ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN and FOX News.

I was also aware that some of these networks might be making their live Election Night feeds available on a one-time only basis.

The good news was that there were a lot of options, particularly if I wanted to watch the ABC, FOX, NBC and CBS News feeds, which were available on a number of platforms, including Xumo, which ran all four. Live election coverage from at least one of the abovementioned sources was available on pretty much every FAST, including those owned by the major media companies and those owned by the OEMs. 

And while the MSNBC live feed was only available on Peacock, it was indeed available on the free version of the app, which left CNN as the odd man out.

This is not surprising in that CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery has no free streaming outlet at the moment, though comments they’ve made indicate that this might change.

But until it does, the absence of any real presence on the FASTs, especially during major news events, is likely to eat into CNN’s relevance to a new generation of viewers.

Why it matters

The conventional wisdom is that most people are holding on to their cable subscriptions in order to watch live sports and to have access to a live national news feed for major events like elections and Russian invasions of peaceful neighboring countries. 

(And again, despite all those “massive wave of cord cutting” stories, as of October 2022, 66% of US households still had a live pay TV subscription. This is per Leichtman Research, a company whose stats we trust, because they include vMVPDs in that total. You may see other, lower numbers but those do not include vMVPDs, which continue to grow at a fairly rapid clip.)

So it’s telling to understand that our options to watch live election coverage from major players are, in fact, pretty substantial. 

Especially given the pace at which live sports is migrating to streaming, RSNs included. While it’s not always free, it’s far less than a typical cable subscription and, in the case of Thursday Night Football, even comes with free two-day delivery.

All of which means that it may soon become much easier for many U.S. households to give up their traditional live pay TV packages, especially if they then go on to subscribe to the premium versions of Paramount+ and Peacock (and potentially Hulu and Tubi) which give them access to their local news feeds as well.

SIDE NOTE: I also learned (via Matthew Keys) that Fox maintains a separate FAST-only news operation called FOX LiveNow which mostly pulls content from local affiliates, and seemed to have its own national news desk on Election Night. I had assumed the name was just a streaming variation on the FOX News cable network designed to appease Fox’s MVPD partners, but it seems that is not the case. Still, I suspect I am not the only one who made that assumption and that LiveNow mostly attracted people looking for FOX News. Kind of a win for Fox either way. 

What you need to do about it

If you’re WBD, figure out a way to get a live CNN feed into the premium version of your app, even if it’s a workaround like Fox’s, where it’s a different team and production crew, but still feels premium, just another flavor of CNN.

I’d also make it free during major news events. Download the app and you can watch the CNN feed on Election Night for free without signing up. Which means that you’ve now gotten your app onto someone’s device and that makes it far more likely they will subscribe. You can even run promos and offers during the election news.

I’d also clean up all those ersatz CNN feeds you have out there, the ones that feel like “Best of CNN” only they’re not labeled as such. People watch them thinking they’re the real thing, and then they’re pissed off when they find out they’re not. Especially when they can get the real thing from ABC, CBS and NBC.

If you’re one of the broadcast networks, streaming is your chance to convert a whole generation of new viewers to your national news services. Given how biased everyone now assumes the cable news services are, you have a wide-open lane to present yourselves as unbiased sources of news with a storied history that goes back to the Edward R. Murrow days. 

That means doing a lot of promotion beforehand and letting people know both your value prop and where they can find your national news. Yes, there will be pushback from your local stations, and if you’re NBC you are, at many levels, competing with MSNBC on that, but don’t let that stop you.

And if you’re curious about what you can watch where, here’s a link to the aforementioned LinkedIn post—be sure to read the lively discussion that ensued as well.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Wolk's Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of Fierce Video.