TV & Streaming

Peacock’s trick to keep subscribers coming back? Emails—billions of them

Regular programming recommendations translate to boosts in viewership.
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Francis Scialabba

5 min read

Addicted to checking your email? Streaming services—yes, streaming services—might be betting on it.

The annual churn rate across streamers in the US in the 12 months ending in June averaged 47%, according to Parks Associates, and consumers report taking longer than ever to find shows to watch, meaning streamers are pressed to find ways to keep viewers from canceling their subscriptions. And there’s a relatively simple channel that some media companies are tapping into as part of their efforts to try to keep viewers plugged in week after week: The humble email inbox.

At NBCUniversal-owned streamer Peacock, users across its free and paid tiers are each sent between three and five emails per week depending on how active they are on the service, Annabella Goff, Peacock’s senior director of CRM, said. As of June, Peacock had 24 million paying subscribers, translating to several billion emails sent every year.

Blasting users with email messages may sound less sexy than the sophisticated algorithms that streamers promise will serve up perfectly timed and personalized programming recommendations. But at Peacock, at least, email seems to have a big effect on churn reduction and conversion rates. Late last year, an email campaign in which more than 40 million users received year-in-review breakdowns of their viewing activity on Peacock translated to a 20% reduction in churn rate among paid subscribers in a 30-day period, as well as a 6% higher upgrade rate for free users who moved into Peacock’s paid tier, Goff said.

More broadly, every single premium subscription streamer saw churn rates in June 2023 increase compared to the year prior—with the exception of Peacock, which saw churn rates decline 2%, according to data from Antenna.

“We know that email, in particular, is a channel that works,” Goff told Marketing Brew.

Hit Send

Goff, who reports to the streamer’s growth and lifecycle marketing team, works alongside two dozen marketers across email, push, and in-product notifications to craft messaging strategies intended to keep customers plugged in. Since users who watch across multiple devices and watch varying titles and genres are more likely to stay with the service, the marketing team’s work, along with the product and programming teams, “is geared towards getting you into your next series, getting into something that you could binge,” Goff said.

After users have signed up on Peacock, their behaviors and viewing patterns can be tracked and analyzed, which Goff and her team use to determine which retention strategies might be most effective.

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“We look at their viewing history, how long they’ve been on platform, what devices they’re using, and we use all this information to either model out or create segmented audiences, specifically with what content might interest them,” Goff said. Overall, the streamer maintains more than 500 separate audience segments, which receive different kinds of programming recommendations.

At the core of her team’s approach is the idea of sending users relevant messages that keep them interested in watching. Goff and her team track open rates to determine if they’ve stuck the landing, but they are less interested in tracking clickthrough rates—primarily because most people are watching on large-screen devices, not where they check their email. Instead, the team measures the seven-day lift on viewership of individual titles highlighted in emails, as well as any lifts in viewership among users targeted in email campaigns. Peacock consistently sees double-digit lifts on both, Goff said.

“We know specifically what titles are hitting with which users consistently, and that allows us to home in on being more relevant for the next communication,” she said.

Inbox full

There are some limitations to email marketing for streamers. For Peacock’s 2022 year-in-review campaign, Goff said that video privacy laws meant that her team wasn’t able to highlight specific titles viewers watched over the course of the year.

“We don’t tell you specifically you watched Yellowstone, for instance,” she said. “We kind of stuck to a higher level [review], with genre and your viewing activity outside of the actual content.”

In the coming year, Goff said she and her team are focused on ensuring that in-app content recommendations, email communications, and editorial programming work in tandem with one another, hopefully boosting engagement rates further.

As Peacock adds more programming and as it aims to grow its subscriber base further, Goff’s challenge—and north star—is to deliver a “really relevant experience that’s going to be something that our users are going to want to be a part of,” she said. That may have become even more essential now that the streamer, which is phasing out its free tier, raised the prices of its premium tiers.

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