NBCUniversal's Peacock Not Ready for Prime Time

On July 15, NBCUniversal became the last of the major studios to launch its own streaming service. In the past year, spurred on by acquisitions, Disney Plus successfully rolled out its service featuring Disney and 21st Century Fox movies; HBO Max includes Warner Media content; and CBS was able to add Paramount pictures movies to its offering. Unfortunately, it appears that Peacock has not learned from the success of its predecessors.

Peacock is the most confusing streaming service of the bunch. Why is it featuring The Matrix movies that are Warner Brothers films? (Because for some reason NBCUniversal needs licensing deals for better content.) Shows that initially aired on CBS, Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, and King of Queens are some of the featured TV series. It's also puzzling how the ad-supported and ad-free function works. There may be ads in some titles, even if you sign up for premium ad-free service. There's also no consistency in how many seasons are available for various TV series, and whether only a few or all episodes are offered.

At launch, Peacock lacks programming in 4K resolution with HDR, as well as Dolby Atmos sound. Both are apparently on NBCUniversal's roadmap, but there's been no indication of when they will be added to the service.

Three Subscription Tiers
Unlike its competitors, Peacock is the only one of these major services to offer a free tier. You can sign up for the service without a credit card and start watching for free but won't have access to the entire library. Not all seasons or episodes of TV shows are offered to free members. For example, only the most recent season of This is Us are available. As with most free services, it is ad-supported so TV shows and movies might be interrupted by commercial breaks.

There are two tiers of premium subscriptions. For $5 per month or $50 per year, you can sign up for the ad-supported premium level and gain access to the entire Peacock library. Some shows have commercial breaks and others have three or more minutes of ads at the beginning of playback but no breaks during the program. This tier is available to Comcast and Cox subscribers for free.

For $10 per month or $100 per year, you can choose an ad-free subscription. Problem is not all titles are ad-free. During playback, some movies and TV shows have commercial breaks promoting Peacock programming.

Original Content
Covid-19 dealt a significant blow to Peacock. When planning the launch of the streaming service, surely NBCUniversal couldn't foresee that the Tokyo Olympics would be canceled and film production would be halted.

As a result, only three original series and a few original documentaries are available at launch. Intelligence is a sitcom featuring Friends star David Schwimmer. Set at a British Intelligence agency, Schwimmer plays an NSA agent who has been sent to act as a liaison with its British counterpart. His role as a bumbling, clueless boss brings to mind Steve Carell's role in The Office.

The Capture is also a British intelligence series. The official synopsis describes it like this: "While disentangling misinformation from the truth in an era of deepfakes, alternative facts, and ubiquitous surveillance, an investigation of damning video evidence calls into question whether seeing is deceiving." In plain English, this is about an agency that solves crimes using CCTV public and private surveillance cameras. Although the evidence may be caught on video, it may not be real.

The third original series is an adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, starring Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) with Demi Moore playing his mother in a supporting role. The story takes place 600 years in the future. It's a time of test-tube babies, free sex, and drug-induced happiness.

On-Demand TV Shows, Movies, and Documentaries
Free subscribers get access to 13,000 hours of content, which expands to more than 20,000 hours with a Premium subscription. The Premium package includes a broad range of content from NBC, Bravo, USA Network, SYFY, Oxygen, E!, CNBC, MSNBC, Golf Channel, Universal Kids, A&E, ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, History, and Nickelodeon on the TV side with movies from Showtime, Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, Focus Features, Illumination, ViacomCBS, Paramount, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., and Blumhouse.

Popular films old and new are available — from The Bourne Identity and its sequels to Atonement and Reservoir Dogs to Deer Hunter and all the way back to the classic Marx Brothers films The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. A library of Hitchcock movies and other classics are also offered, including The Sting, Spartacus, and Day of the Jackal.

Some of the more recent popular films are limited engagements. Shrek, the Jurassic Park titles, The Matrix films, The Mummy and others are only available through August 1, so be sure to check the detail page of a movie you want to watch to see if it has a limited timeframe.

TV shows also include such recent series as Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and This is Us as well as classics like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Columbo, Cheers, Rockford Files, Battlestar Galactica andThe Munsters.

Unfortunately, the number of seasons or episodes available to free members or paid subscribers is inconsistent. Variety shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Johnny Carson, and SNL have a limited number of episodes from a limited number of seasons. SNL has shows spanning from season 23 to season 45. There are 21 seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit but only eight seasons of Law and Order inexplicably beginning with season 13.

Curated Channels
Along with on-demand content, there are 32 curated channels. These are not live NBC channels. Instead, they have scheduled programming on various themed channels. When watching one of these, you can't pause, rewind, or fast forward. A grid program guide displays what is currently playing and what's coming up next but there is no way to find out when a show will stream again.

There are several news-type channels including NBC News, Today All Day and Britain’s Sky News. A few channels are dedicated to late night shows — Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with Seth Meyers.

Reality and learning channels include Hell’s Kitchen, Tastemade Video and the Bob Ross Joy of Painting channel.

I watched the documentary 1968. Narrated by Selena Williams, it explores the highly political Olympics in Mexico City that year. Watching it on the channel, I couldn't pause the video. However, I found that the show was also available on-demand, where I could pause, rewind, etc.

Trending Videos
The third type of content available is short, trending videos. These include Top Headline stories, clips from Late Night talk shows, and other lifestyle or feature shorts. The next video plays automatically, and I found myself letting it play in the background to get news and tidbits.

Where to Watch Peacock
The advertisements for Peacock on Facebook are titled "Can't Help Watch." The slogan prompted a number of comments from would-be users frustrated who "can't watch" due to NBCUniversal's inability to strike deals with Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and even Samsung TVs.

Peacock is available on Android TV (Android TV 5.1 and above), Apple TV (4th generation and above), Chromecast, LG WebOS, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, Playstation, and on mobile devices Android (6.0 and above iOS 11 and above).

Using the App
The home screen displays rows of different genres of TV shows or movies with a button to "View All," which simply changes the display to a grid format. If you prefer looking for titles rather than browsing genres, there are A to Z alphabetical lists for TV shows and Movies, which cover more ground than genre listings.

Unlike other apps, pressing the Menu button doesn't take you back to the top while you're navigating content — you have to scroll — which can be annoying. And playback is awkward on Apple TV. To rewind or fast forward, I had to pause the video and press the up button to highlight the time scrubber. I could scrub back or forward to any point in the show, but there are no thumbnails for scenes on the timeline, which makes it less useful.

You can sign up for a free Peacock account if you don't mind ads and want to watch some old shows and limited-engagement movies but I suggest waiting until at least January 2021 to sign up for the Premium service. Licensing deals with other services expire around that time so more content — including The Office and the rest of the seasons of Will & Grace — will be available.

Perhaps by 2021, NBCUniversal will have figured out a more consistent offering, so you'll know what you are getting for the extra money you pay for the Premium service. And, perhaps by then, Peacock will be available on more devices and will have added support for 4K/HDR and Dolby Atmos.

Traveler's picture

So I gave Peacock an honest test using my Comcast box, not impressed. It was very slow to load and fast forwarding was clumsy at best. As for selection, I didn't see many interesting titles but that's a matter of taste. It was inevitable but still sad the way things are splintering, wish everything was on one or two high function platforms.