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What Comcast's new Netflix, Peacock, Apple TV+ streaming bundle tells you about the industry's economics

Peter Kafka   

What Comcast's new Netflix, Peacock, Apple TV+ streaming bundle tells you about the industry's economics
  • Comcast is selling Netflix, Peacock, and Apple TV+ for $15 a month. It'd cost $23 to get them separately.
  • Where does that $8-a-month discount come from?

If you subscribe to Netflix's cheapest plan, and also get Peacock's cheapest plan, and also get Apple TV+, it will cost you $23 a month.

But if you get them all together, via a new package Comcast has started selling to its broadband customers, it will cost $15 a month — a discount of more than 30%.

This is one of several new bundles the streaming industry is trying out these days — and, like I've written before, it's not really a return to the bundles of the old cable-TV days. And you should be thankful for that.

But what's the math behind the bundle? There's $8 of discounts a month here, spread among three companies. Are all of them taking less than they normally do? Or is one company subsidizing the others?

Spoiler: I don't know. But I have heard two theories on the case.

The first is the more obvious one: Netflix is a big, very popular service that many people have heard of. Peacock and Apple are much smaller. So Peacock and Apple would benefit more from being in a bundle with Netflix, so they are more likely to discount their rates to make the bundle work.

I floated that one to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos last week after his company's "upfront" presentation to ad buyers. He told me he wouldn't comment about any of the economics behind any of Netflix's deals. But, he added with a smile, he appreciated the logic behind my theory.

But then there's the second theory I've heard floated — that all three services benefit from the bundle, so everyone makes some kind of accommodation. Part of that theory is one you've heard before: Bundles are easier/more cost-effective to market, and they reduce "churn" — people dropping out of services each month, which is a huge problem for the streaming business.

But another part of that argument was new to me: People who get streaming services by signing up via broadband companies like Comcast or Verizon are much less likely to stop and start their subscriptions. Which would make Netflix much more willing to take a discounted rate for this kind of bundle than it would be if it were part of a different bundle.

That's pretty intriguing, and it does make sense. Digital distributors like Apple have made it very easy for subscribers to turn their streaming subscriptions on and off. But if you're getting, say, Disney+ at a discount via a Verizon promotion, it requires several steps to turn that off. Just as important — you're much more likely to forget you're paying for Disney+ at all, since its cost gets buried in a monthly Verizon bill you may never look at.

Is that true? Good question. Netflix, Comcast, and Apple all declined to comment about bundle economics. And it turns out that Antenna, the subscription-tracking service I often use to learn about this kind of thing, doesn't track subscriptions via wholesale deals like this.

But here's something that gives some credence to the notion: documents from Apple, unearthed via 2021 court proceedings, about Netflix's decision to stop selling subscriptions via Apple's App Store in 2018. Netflix, according to Apple executives who were discussing the move, was not just motivated to stop selling because of the fee Apple takes for each subscriber — but also concerned that customers it acquired that way were more likely to unsubscribe.

So maybe all streaming subscriptions aren't equal.