Review: NBC's Streaming Service, Peacock, Is Here

Right now NBC's just copying what worked on other services. Is that enough?

July 23, 2020 10:48 am
You can enjoy a lot of free Peacock programming on multiple devices

We’ve spent a week with NBCUniversal’s new streaming service Peacock, and it was hard to come to any conclusions about it.

Because Peacock doesn’t do any one thing particularly well. Or terribly. Or really, offer anything unique at all.

What the streaming service does have is between 13,000 and 20,000 hours of programming, an interesting pricing tier and the promise of good originals and more classic series … starting next year.

Let’s break this down!

The pitch: Get original programming, sports and the library of NBC and several connected cable channels (Telemundo, USA, Syfy, Bravo, etc.) for anywhere from free to $5 a month with ads, or up to $10/month ad-free. The ad tier is basically what Hulu does, and the premium option is your Prime/Netflix competitor. What’s interesting here is what you get with “free,” which is pretty close to the paid versions minus a few shows, some big-name sports events, movies or early/next-day access to NBC shows. 

The set-up: Signing up was like any other service I’ve ever used. You can watch Peacock on a computer and/or your TV.

The streamer divides its menu into three different sections: First, there’s Channels, which resembles your cable TV grid or a free service like Pluto — it’s essentially “live” TV or on-going programming for the lazy who may just want to tune into, say, “SNL Vault” or “Today All Day” without thinking about it.

There’s also Trending, which is clips of recent shows, news and trailers. It’s a bit like an NBC-sponsored YouTube. 

And finally, we have “Browse,” which looks like any other streaming service’s home page, dividing up shows and movies by watchlist, featured, genre and made-up categories like “Your Reality Check Is Covered” and “All the Drama.” Here, it most resembles Prime Video, given that it’ll tell you what’s free to watch and what’s on a more premium tier. 

There’s also a regular Search bar. 

What worked:

  • Shows loaded quickly and, in our brief interactions, didn’t seem to have any loss of HD quality (which plagues Netflix during busy times).
  • If you’ve used Hulu, Netflix, Prime, etc. you can navigate this service intuitively. 
  • If you’re a fan of NBC’s rather strong history with comedy, you’ll find almost every great show here (30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Cheers), plus The Office starting in 2021. But no Seinfeld.

What kind of worked:

  • The originals we tested were rather bland, but hey, we’re only a week in here! The 30 Rock special was essentially a parody of an infomercial for all of NBC’s new shows (which look dreadful) and for Peacock itself. And the new TV movie Psych 2 reminded me that detective comedy worked better as an hour-long weekly series. 

What needs work:

  • Apparently, major movies like Fast and Furious and Jurassic Park were disappearing from the site as soon as a single day after launch.
  • The service is still not available via Roku or Amazon Fire TV.

What we don’t know:

  • There’s a lot of sports that’s coming to Peacock — including live events — but we haven’t been able to access it yet because, well, there’s not a lot of sports right now. The service is promising 175 exclusive Premier League matches for the 2020-2021 season; coverage of elite cycling events like the Tour De France from August 29 – September 20, and La Vuelta starting October 20; and more than 100 hours of WWE content coming in August. Most of that is for the paid tiers, but there will be some soccer, the U.S. Open, Olympics coverage and even an NFL Wild Card game in the near future for free users, pandemic concerns aside. As our Editor-in-Chief notes, “I can get the with-ads version of Peacock for the same price I pay for NBC Sports Gold. So basically i’m just getting a bunch more content (none of which i’ll actually watch) for free.”
  • The upcoming Peacock originals, like a third season of A.P. Bio and Sam Esmail’s re-reboot of Battlestar Galactica, will certainly keep us coming back … if the shows are available on the free tier. For now, there are a lot of upcoming British series and some reality/talk shows that aren’t going to move the needle. Nor will a remake of Punky Brewster. Speaking of copying: The reboot- and spinoff-heavy plan here is akin to what CBS All Access is doing, and that network’s actually done a decent job at injecting new life into old projects.
  • From what we’ve seen of the originals, so far this network is PG-13 at best. Which doesn’t mean you can’t find good programming — but it does mean you’re not going to find anything outside the norm or pushing buttons (something both HBO and Hulu do well). Since we’re doing comparisons, it reminds us of the inoffensive nature of Apple TV+.
  • We didn’t test out other new Peacock originals like Brave New World or the new David Schwimmer comedy, but reviews were tepid.

Recommendation: The best thing Peacock has going for it, besides familiarity, is being free. Until the service gets enough original programming under its belt, there is no reason to (pay) subscribe to this — it lacks the boldness and curation prowess of Hulu, the sheer programming breadth of Netflix and Prime Video, and the quality of HBO Max (by that we mean HBO plus Search Party).

That said, the service does offer more for the average viewer than Apple TV+ or Disney+ (if you don’t have kids), and it blows Quibi and any free services like Pluto out of the water. 

Definitely download the app and check back every few months — it may be worth a second look next year when you suddenly feel the need to binge The Office, since you might not be in one anytime soon.

Oh, and bonus: If you’re an Xfinity or Cox customer, you have access to the Premium side of Peacock for free. Which, oddly, is a small reason to stick with your cable service and not do cord cutting, which Peacock seems to be all about.

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