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With a plethora of free TV shows and movies, NBC Universal's streamer stands out from the crowd.
Peacock, the streaming service from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, is something of an experiment. Its tiled interface and well-known network make it appear similar to Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and HBO Max. However, unlike those services, it has a completely free version that offers a wealth of live news and sports as well as a large back catalogue of TV shows and movies. It's similar to free streaming services like Pluto TV, Tubi, and Roku Channels in that regard, but it has a larger selection of exclusive, familiar shows and movies.
Peacock's free tier includes approximately 13,000 hours of ad-supported content. There are shows, movies, news, live sports, and skit-style clips, with Modern Family, 30 Rock, and The Bourne Identity among the highlights. The Office moved from Netflix to Peacock in January, but you can only watch the first two seasons on the free tier; to binge it all, you'll need to upgrade to Peacock Premium for $5 per month. The same can be said for Parks and Recreation. If you upgrade to premium, you'll also get only two episodes of new original series, such as Brave New World. Yellowstone, the popular television series, is the sequel to the original Psych film.
Peacock's live sports offering is strong, though the most important events require a Premium subscription. It has English Premier League soccer, NHL hockey, and WWE wrestling (all of which are restricted to Premium), and it will live stream gymnastics, track & field, and men's basketball events from the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Except for live USA Men's Basketball games, which require a Premium subscription, all of Peacock's Olympics coverage will be available on the free tier.
Peacock lacked a number of features when it first launched, including compatibility with the popular Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices. However, in September, NBC and Roku reached an agreement, and the Peacock app is now available on Roku devices. The same thing happened with Amazon in June, and the Peacock app is now available on TV devices as well. The service has also added the ability to create user profiles as well as mobile downloads, though the latter is only available with its most expensive subscription plan. Peacock still does not provide mobile downloads for its lower tiers or 4K HDR streaming, both of which are available on paid competitors such as Netflix and Disney Plus.
If you upgrade to the Premium ($5 per month or $50 per year with ads) or Premium Plus ($10 per month or $100 per year with no ads) tiers, you'll gain access to the entire catalogue of 20,000 hours of content, including every episode of The Office and its original series. You'll also get access to new episodes of all current NBC shows the next day (rather than just freshman series on the free tier), as well as early access to Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on the night they air.
If you enjoy NBC's stable of shows, want to catch up on some past hit movies, or simply don't want to pay for Netflix or Hulu, the free version of Peacock is excellent. However, whether you're willing to pay $5 to $10 per month when you already have the other major streaming services will be determined by how much you want to watch The Office, Yellowstone, and live sports like the Olympics.
About those ads
I tried Peacock's ad-supported free tier as well as its ad-supported $5 monthly Premium tier. (It's nice that you don't need a credit card to sign up for the free account; all you need is an email address.) Peacock guarantees that you will see no more than 5 minutes of advertising per hour across both ad-supported tiers. However, it appears that if you jump in and out of a movie or show, the ad count may reset. And, at least in my experience, the premium tier seemed to have fewer ads than the free tier, though I haven't tested it long enough to know for sure.
There were six ads ranging from 20 to 60 seconds each while watching Jurassic Park (which, as of August 1, 2020, has expired on Peacock and moved over to Netflix) on an Apple TV and a MacBook Air. However, when we watched it on the iPhone app, we were informed that we would be subjected to 135 seconds of advertising at the start and none for the rest of the time. That option would be great to have on the Apple TV as well to get the ads out of the way, but you can't choose your ad format.
When I went back to start Jurassic Park after scrolling around and watching a bunch of ads, there were no ads at all, because I had already seen 5 minutes' worth in the previous hour.
On Saturday Night Live, there were seven to nine ads scattered throughout the episode on both mobile and television. This is roughly the same ad experience as Hulu's $6-per-month ad-supported plan or regular live TV – except it's free.
Aside from that, the ad experience differed depending on the show and device. I don't like ads (who does? ), but they weren't bothersome enough to make me want to upgrade to a $10 plan right now.
A familiar navigation experience (for the most part)
Navigating through the Browse section of Peacock's homepage is similar to that of other streaming services. A large carousel of "hero" tiles at the top is accompanied by rows of thumbnails labelled Peacock Picks, Continue Watching, Peacock Originals, Featured Films, Laugh Out Loud, Comfort TV, and so on.
Peacock does have a Kids page with a couple of popular shows like Curious George and, on premium, Dragons: Riders of Berk, but the catalogue is definitely more adult-focused — it can't compete with Disney Plus or HBO Max's kids' offerings. However, you can set parental controls and create a PIN to prevent your children from watching anything above a certain rating.
Premium shows are mixed in with free offerings, as indicated by a small purple feather in the upper left corner. It reminds me a little of Amazon Prime Video, which has shows that are included with your subscription as well as those that you have to pay extra for. The app, on the other hand, isn't obnoxious in its attempts to persuade you to upgrade: If you click on a premium-only show or go to your Account page, you'll be asked if you want to upgrade to premium.
From a single account, you can stream on up to three devices at the same time. One drawback: Unlike Netflix, there is no "skip intro" button, so you'll have to listen to theme songs repeatedly unless you manually fast-forward.
Browsing deep into NBC's back catalog
Peacock's official launch in July 2020 came at an unusual time: due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of its originals were pushed back to 2021 or later. Its debut was also scheduled to coincide with NBC's live coverage of the summer Olympics, which has also been postponed until 2021.
NBC and its sister networks and entertainment properties, including Bravo, USA Network, SYFY, Oxygen, E!, CNBC, MSNBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel, Illumination, Universal Kids, and Universal Pictures, offer 13,000 hours of free content or 20,000 hours of premium content. A&E, ABC, Fox, History, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Animation, Focus Features, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Blumhouse, CBS, Showtime, Paramount, and The CW have all licenced content.
30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Downton Abbey, Monk, and Friday Night Lights are among the best shows available on the free tier right now, and you get all seasons of each. Upgrade to premium to access all previous seasons of Cheers, Frasier, House, Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, and George Lopez. However, even on premium, you only get a few seasons or episodes from some shows. For example, only the last six seasons of Saturday Night Live and a few episodes of This Is Us are available.
The free tier will also receive current episodes of new NBC shows (those in their first season) the day after they air, as well as episodes of other NBC shows one week later. Every NBC show will be available the following day if you subscribe to the premium tier. One intriguing benefit for premium subscribers: When Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon return to in-studio production, you'll be able to watch them before they air, at 8 p.m. ET, instead of 11:30 p.m. ET.
However, the catalogue is far from complete. Some NBC shows, such as Friends, Seinfeld, and older seasons of Saturday Night Live, aren't on Peacock and won't be for a long time, if ever.
There were seven originals at the start: Brave New World, The Capture, Intelligence, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, Where's Waldo?, Cleopatra In Space, and Curious George. None, as of yet, have become must-see hits, such as The Mandalorian on Disney Plus.
There are hundreds of titles in the Movies category, but only a few from the last decade. (Think Alfred Hitchcock, not Bong Joon-ho.) There are about 20 movies in the Rotten Tomatoes Approved belt, but only a few from the last few years (including 2017's John Wick 2). However, there are many classics to choose from, including Psycho, Schindler's List, and The Breakfast Club. All of the Harry Potter films are also included (though only the first three are available on the free tier).
Many of Peacock's big-name films, on the other hand, don't last long. If a movie is about to expire, you can see how many days you have left to watch it on the desktop and iOS versions of the app. The original Jurassic Park trilogy and The Matrix trilogy were removed from the service at the end of July, just a few weeks after it launched. Reservoir Dogs, Do the Right Thing, and Phantom Thread are a few others that have come and gone. However, a company representative stated that they may return. And, soon, you'll be able to see how much time you have left to watch a specific movie before it expires across all platforms.
Peacock displays Rotten Tomatoes ratings for titles that aren't obvious classics. Movie thumbnails may include a red-tomatoes "fresh" rating, but do not include a score if the film is rated "rotten." After selecting a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating, you can see its score, good or bad.
While some services have begun streaming theater-bound movies early (for example, Hamilton on Disney Plus), Peacock executives say they have no plans to do so. Trolls World Tour, on the other hand, will be available as a Premium movie offering in September 2020.
Should you get Peacock?
It's free, so why not give it a shot? If the ads irritate you or you want to watch one of the original shows, you can also try out its premium tiers for free for seven days, or find other deals depending on your platform and cable provider.
Will Peacock join Netflix and Hulu in your daily streaming routine? Probably not, at least not in the near future. Is it, however, a good free option for finding older movies and shows that you may have missed (or want to watch for the millionth time)? Definitely. If you don't mind watching a few ads, it's a fun place to explore older movies and a diverse range of TV shows, as well as keep up with current NBC shows, news, and some live sports all in one place – especially if you're already a cord-cutter looking to expand your options for free.
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