Comcast chose both the best and the worst time to launch Peacock TV, its new streaming service. On the one hand, people are watching more content than ever from home. However, what separates the best streaming services from second-tier competitors is original content. And while Peacock has a huge supply of TV shows — everything from Airwolf to Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist — its plans to roll out original series were sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a Comcast Xfinity customer with an Xfinity Flex streaming device, I have been able to use Peacock since its soft launch on April 15; the service will roll out more widely in July.
Overall, Peacock shows promise. But after spending a few days with the service, it’s clear that some things still need to be worked out before it can fully spread its wings.
Editor's note: Peacock won a Highly Recommended award in the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards for Best Free Streaming Service.
Peacock: Price and availability
Currently, Peacock is available only to Comcast TV subscribers, or those who have the Xfinity Flex streaming device. The basic service, called Premium, is free for Xfinity customers, but will cost $4.99 per month for everyone else. If you want an ad-free experience, it’ll cost you an additional $5 per month.
On July 15, Peacock will roll out more broadly to other streaming devices and platforms. At that point, Peacock Premium will cost $4.99 per month for non-Comcast customers.
Peacock’s interface is a reflection of just how beholden it is to its traditional TV roots, while trying to accommodate both current and future viewing behaviors. It works, to varying degrees.
After you sign up for Peacock, you can make changes to your account, but only by going to a web browser. You can’t create multiple user profiles as you can with Netflix and Hulu, but Peacock plans to add this feature. However, you currently can have up to three streams running concurrently through the same account.
The most underdeveloped part of Peacock is what you’re presented with first: the Trending section of the app, which shows popular clips. When I launched the app, I was greeted with awkward segments from the coronavirus-affected Tonight Show. Now I know what it sounds like when no one laughs at Jimmy Fallon’s jokes.
By pressing the down button on the remote, you can scroll through other “trending” clips. After Fallon, there were other clips from Benjamin Cohen, the Office, NHL broadcaster Doc Emrick and a news clip about Andrew Cuomo mandating that people wear face masks. On another day, there were clips about John Krazinski hosting a virtual prom and a bit from an episode of Cheers about sanitizing. It’s a real mishmash, and a section I feel many viewers will ignore completely.
Fortunately, Peacock has a better grasp of the Channels and Browse sections of its app.
Channels is most like a traditional TV viewing experience. A grid takes up the lower half of the screen with a list of “live” channels, as if you were watching over-the-air content. At the moment, there are 20 channels, including one of just The Office reruns. This section will eventually expand to around 75 channels.
Currently, channels include The Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, NBC News top stories, Sky News and then a number of genre channels, such as True Crime, Kiss Me Deadly, American Greed, Unsolved Mysteries, Out of this World and 80s Mixtape. This channel was showing such classics as 21 Jump Street and Hunter.
The SNL Channel, Seth Meyers and The Office Channel don’t show full episodes, but rather clips and sketches from various seasons. For instance, once when I was watching the SNL Channel, it went from an '80s-era Eddie Murphy sketch to one with Adam Driver in a Del Taco audition. A few minutes later, it was showing Alec Baldwin’s Schwetty Balls sketch.
By not airing full episodes of SNL, Peacock presents a good way to avoid those late-in-the-show duds. But I wish the sketches were organized, rather than just being aired randomly.
At the moment, these “live” channels don’t support pausing, fast-forward, or rewind, but Comcast is planning to add these features, as well as playlists and skipping ahead or back between shows in a channel.
Browse lets you scroll through NBC’s fairly extensive catalog of shows. Even though many programs are still being added, I went down a nostalgia trip as I came across '80s and '90s classics like Airwolf, Cheers, The Commish, Columbo and even SeaQuest DSV. Both Saved by the Bell and Saved by the Bell: The College Years are on Peacock, as is 21 Jump Street. Only eight seasons of Law & Order are currently available, but that’s enough to start my binge-watching. I have no idea what TNT is going to air now.
You can browse through all shows, but they’re also sorted by genre. Some of the options are very granular, like the SNL Sports collection. If you want to watch Peyton Manning beaning kids with footballs, this is the category for you.
As mentioned, Peacock’s strength lies in its library of NBC shows. While programs are still being added, three pillars from the '90s — Friends, Seinfeld and ER — won’t be available on Peacock, as HBO Max, Netflix, and Hulu, respectively, bought the rights to those shows.
At the moment, movies are fairly limited: I counted 372 titles the day Peacock launched. But while the selections aren’t deep, they are broad, ranging from Jurassic Park, E.T., and Reservoir Dogs to 1932’s Scarface.
Peacock doesn’t have Thor — you’ll need to subscribe to Disney Plus for that — but it does have Almighty Thor (2011), starring Richard Grieco.
As with television shows, movies are sorted by genre, such as Westerns, Action & Adventure, SNL Alums, Hidden Gems, and I Love the 90s. The thumbnail for each movie also shows its Rotten Tomatoes score.
Some movies show you about two minutes of ads beforehand, but then let you watch the entire rest of the movie ad-free.
What’s currently missing — and what will be missing for a while — is original content. Peacock Chairman Matt Strauss said that many of the original shows planned for the platform would be delayed until 2021. However, the streaming service will debut a few new originals this year, including a Saved by the Bell sequel, a Punky Brewster reboot and a new series called Brave New World, based on the Aldous Huxley novel. It probably goes without saying that there won’t be any Tokyo Olympics broadcast this summer, though.
Thanks to its enormous catalog of TV shows, Peacock is in the same enviable position as Disney+, and has something to fall back on when it’s difficult or impossible to create new content. Having a soft launch for just Comcast customers is also a good way to test out the kinks in the service, and avoid the issues that plagued Disney+ when millions rushed to download and use the app at launch. We’ll reserve our final rating of Peacock until it’s available more widely, but it looks like it’s off to a good start.