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NBC might take Peacock down the "free but you have to watch some commercials" route

Photo: GEORGES GOBET/AFP (Getty Images)

It’s one of those little oddities of the modern streaming landscape that “watch some commercials, and we’ll let you see our TV shows for free” has become a total outlier when it comes to recent TV distribution models. Sure, it’s still the default route over in the world of broadcast, but the last major streaming service to operate on an ad-supported free tier, Yahoo! View (which played host to much of Hulu’s older free content from back before it went subscription-only) was shuttered earlier this year. (Not that you can’t still see ads on Hulu, mind you; you just have to pay for the privilege, at least at the Disney-owned service’s lower pricing tiers.)

Which is why it’s so interesting to hear reports—courtesy of CNBC, where, presumably, they’d know—that NBC is considering exactly such a “Okay, fine, we’ll watch that Midsommar-looking bastard sell soap for two minutes” method of support for its upcoming Peacock streaming service. According to the report, Peacock might end up looking at lot like the old Hulu model, actually, where you could either watch TV ad-supported for free, or pay a subscription to get rid of the commercials. Of course, instead of getting content from a wide variety of networks, with Peacock you’ll be stuck with stuff from the NBCUniversal family (which also includes Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, USA and more), plus a bunch of reruns of The Office and Cheers. But still: Free stuff!

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This hypothetical decision is especially telling in light of the fact that NBC is still a major content provider for Hulu, which its parent company, Comcast, still technically owns a chunk of. (The company ceded control of the running of the company not all that long ago, after Disney absorbed Fox’s stake in the service and acquired 60 percent ownership overall.) Presumably, there’s something appealing about this sort of low-impact approach to serving up content, with less focus on subscription numbers, and more on collecting traditional ad views to pay the bills.

Peacock is expected to debut next April.

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