NBCU’s Peacock streaming service adds hundreds of hours of A&E shows

Peacock, NBCU’s upcoming streaming service is expanding its unscripted lineup thanks to a new deal with A&E Networks. The licensing pact will allow NBCU to stream hundreds of hours of A&E and History’s most popular shows, including “First 48,” “Storage Wars,” “Cold Case Files,” “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers,” “Ancient Aliens,” “Curse of Oak Island,” and “Project Blue Book.”

The new A&E shows complement a growing lineup on Peacock which now includes TV classics, next-day access to episodes, hundreds of movies, original content, late night, live sports, kids shows, news, Spanish-language content, and other unscripted series.

The company’s plan is to draw in new subscribers by aggregating content from a diverse array of brands, including NBC, Bravo, E!, NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, and others, combined with a film library that pulls in titles from Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, and Focus Features. It has also greenlit several reboots that capitalize on viewers’ nostalgia, like “Saved by the Bell,” “Punky Brewster,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and others. And it plans to live stream summer Olympic programming (assuming the games aren’t canceled.)

But this new deal with A&E further points to NBCU’s plans to position Peacock as a cable TV alternative for cord-cutters. While none of the newly licensed programs on their own would likely encourage users to subscribe, they’re that sort of B-tier content that helps make a service feel more complete. They’re the sort of shows people watch when they can’t think of anything to watch — much like one of NBCU’s bigger wins, with its deal to bring “The Office” to Peacock from Netflix.

The new service launches April 15, initially to Comcast Xfinity X1 and Flex customers before debuting nationally on July 15. Peacock will be available both as a limited, free and ad-supported service as well as a subscription service where $5 per month delivers more content, including originals. Viewers can also choose to remove ads for another $5.

“We are excited to partner with Peacock,” said Steve MacDonald, President, Global Content Licensing and International, A+E Networks, in a statement about the deal. “We of course strongly believe in the power of the A+E Networks’ library of content, and that it will prove to strengthen Peacock’s offerings.”

For networks like A&E, deals with new streamers like this are inevitable. The pay-TV audience is declining faster than anticipated. As a result, media companies are left scrambling to quickly compile their properties into a Netflix alternative. NBCU’s Peacock isn’t the only one  in this race. AT&T’s WarnerMedia is preparing to launch HBO Max this year. Disney snapped up 21st Century Fox to fill out Disney+ and its (now majority-owned) Hulu streaming service libraries. Viacom and CBS merged and now beefing up CBS All Access (or whatever it may eventually be called) with content from brands like Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Smithsonian, and Paramount.

A&E’s programming won’t be live at launch, but will arrive later this year, NBCU says.

Apple hires A&E’s Molly Thompson as its Head of Documentaries

In addition to a growing lineup of scripted fare, documentaries will be another key focus for Apple TV+, the company’s new streaming service set to launch in May. According to a new report today from Variety, Apple has hired A&E’s Molly Thompson as its Head of Documentaries.

Thompson’s experience at A&E includes founding its documentary production arm, A&E IndieFilms, back in 2005. While there, several of its films earned Emmy nominations, including “Life, Animated,” “Cartel Land,” “Jesus Camp,” and “Murderball.”

Cartel Land,” “Life, Animated,” and “The Tillman Story,” combined, went on to win over a half-dozen Emmys, along with other industry awards.

Thompson also has exec produced: “The Clinton Affair,” Charles Ferguson’s “Watergate” docuseries, “Studio 54,” “City of Ghosts,” “The Imposter,” “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon,” “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” “No Place on Earth,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” and “Being Evel”  — some of which were under A&E’s History Films banner.

For Lifetime Films, she exec produced two narrative features: “Lila & Eve,” which starred Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez and premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival; plus Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait,” with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.

Thompson’s hiring indicates Apple’s interest in bringing content that will appeal to those who don’t regularly watch traditional TV, but instead like to stream more educational fare — like documentary films and docu-series, biographies, shows with a historical focus, and other non-fiction. Plus, documentaries would give Apple a way to compete early on for Emmy attention, even if its scripted series fail to gain critical praise.

Documentaries also represent another means of competing directly with Netflix, where the format has become a huge draw for subscribers — even zeitgeist-y, at times. Netflix today has a range of documentaries that nearly everyone has seen, or has at least heard of, like “Making a Murderer,” “Wild Wild Country,” “13th,” “Amanda Knox,” “Fyre,” “Amy,” and many more. This month it will have another hit in this genre, with Beyoncé’s Coachella documentary, out on April 17th.

Apple has already announced a few of its documentary efforts for Apple TV+, including Oprah’s docu-series, one of which is co-produced with Prince Harry; as well as a docu-series about extraordinary homes; and Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s documentary about an elephant matriarch, “The Elephant Queen.” The latter, which Apple picked up at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of its first feature film buys.

Image credit: IMDb