Tech

Here's a first look at NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock on iPhone

Key Points
  • Comcast's NBCUniversal will enter the streaming wars on Wednesday when it launches Peacock, its new TV and movie service that will compete with the likes of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Disney+.
  • CNBC takes a first look at Peacock Premium, which costs $4.99 per month.
TV shows on Peacock Premium for iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Comcast's NBCUniversal will enter the streaming wars on Wednesday when it launches Peacock, its new TV and movie service that will compete directly with the likes of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Disney+.

Peacock technically first launched on April 15, but only for Comcast subscribers with Xfinity cable boxes. The app launches for everyone in the U.S. on Wednesday for iPhone, Android, Apple TV, Xbox, Cox cable boxes and LG and Vizio smart TVs.

I've been playing around with an early version of the Peacock Premium, which costs $4.99 per month, on my iPhone and will show you a bit of what you'll get if you upgrade to the paid version. My preview didn't include all of the content that goes live on Wednesday, and I wasn't told exactly how content differs from the free version, but I got a feel for how Peacock works, where the ads are and what one of the paid options is like.

As a quick refresher: Peacock will have a few tiers, including:

  • A free ad-supported version with 13,000 hours of movies and TV shows.
  • A $4.99 per month Peacock Premium option with ads and more than 20,000 hours of content, including more than 600 movies and 400 TV series.
  • A $9.99 per month version of Peacock Premium without any ads and with all of the content in the $4.99 per month version.

Here's what you need to know.

The home screen

The "Trending" home screen of Peacock.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

This is the Peacock home screen. 

You're dropped off right on the "Trending" tab when you open Peacock. The page shows you new TV shows or features coming to Peacock, sports highlights and more.

I wish Peacock dropped you off right where the content is, though. It would make more sense if Peacock showed you the movies and TV shows you were watching so you could continue watching them. Or it could start you on the "Channels" tab, where there are 20 free channels to watch, which would feel more like YouTube TV or Hulu Live TV.

The Browse screen is where you'll find the bulk of Peacock's shows and movies, so let's dig into that.

Where you'll spend most of your nonviewing time

The Browse tab on Peacock Premium for iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Browse tab is the Netflix-y part of Peacock where you'll find recommended movies, TV shows, original content made for Peacock and more. It's where you'll probably spend most of your nonviewing time (which, again, is why I think it should be the home screen), and it's split into its own sections: Featured, TV shows, Movies, Kids, News, Sports and Latino.

I found enough TV shows to watch on Peacock Premium, at least to start. There are 11 seasons of "Cheers," seven seasons of "30 Rock," 12 seasons of "Saturday Night Live" and seven seasons of "Parks and Recreation," plus a lot more shows people will certainly be interested in. I like that the TV shows, at least on the $4.99 plan, only had one or two ads in each episode, so I didn't feel like I was being bombarded by ads every few minutes. NBCUniversal, however, told me this wasn't all of the final content, so there may be more when Peacock launches on Wednesday.

The Movies section in Peacock.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There are plenty of good movies (again, on Peacock Premium at least) to keep you busy, too, like The Bourne collection, Hitchcock Collection, "Reservoir Dogs" and "Fast and Furious," but I'm just throwing out the ones that caught my eye. There are plenty more movies on Peacock than that.

There are a bunch of Hitchcock movies on Peacock Premium.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's also a ton of seemingly obscure stuff, like the movie "Airplane vs. Volcano," which I've never heard of and kind of reminds me of the $1 movie section at Blockbuster. But that movie apparently features an airliner "trapped within a ring of erupting volcanoes" facing an "onslaught of lava." So... yeah, that's what I'll be watching this weekend. 

I wish the movies had one or two ads spaced out inside the film, like with TV shows, though. Instead, you'll have to sit through around two or three minutes of ads before the movie plays ad-free on the $4.99 Peacock Premium tier. It's a good time to go make popcorn, I guess.

TV shows only have a few ads spread out throughout each episode in Peacock Premium.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Unfortunately, it's still not immediately clear what sort of differences in TV shows and movies there are between the free and premium tiers, and if the shows and movies that stood out to me on the premium tier are also available on the free version of Peacock. An NBCUniversal spokesperson said the company would reveal more about the differences on Tuesday. But, for now, all I know is that the free version will have about half the content of the premium version.

The Kids section in Peacock Premium for iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Kids section will be useful to parents who want kid-friendly movies and TV shows. But, I think NBCUniversal could improve on the app by creating a kid profile that parents can manage. That way, a child can only see age-relevant content, the way they can on Netflix and other services. When it launches, Peacock will instead allow parents to set a PIN through the Peacock website that's required if a child wants to watch anything over a predetermined age rating. (Little Kids, Older Kids, Family, Teen and Adult.)

The News tab in Peacock Premium for iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The News tab has full episodes of shows like "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt," but only clips of shows from other news networks, like CNBC or MSNBC. There's a reason for that: NBC broadcast is free and CNBC and MSNBC are paid cable, so it makes sense why NBCUniversal wouldn't just give that content away. There's a lot to watch though, and I like that it has some of the latest news clips in the "Top Headlines" section.

The Sports page of Peacock Premium on iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Sports tab will probably get more interesting as live sports return. (And it certainly would have been more compelling the summer if the Olympics hadn't been postponed until 2021.) But, you'll find live Premier League soccer games, one of the new live sports happening now and a real draw for soccer fans, or anyone who misses live sports these days. There are also documentaries like "Dream Team" and "Miracle on Ice: 40th Anniversary."

The Latino tab has lots of Spanish TV shows, movies, news, movies and more.

Channels

Channels on Peacock Premium for iPhone. Some are live and some are not.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Channels tab looks and feels like something you might see on cable.

There are 20 channels, ranging from "Out of This World," with content like the "Ghost Hunters" TV show to "Peacock Reality" with reruns of NBCUniversal reality TV shows.

Some of the channels had stuff I dig, like the SNL Vault with old episodes of SNL and "Office Shorts" with clips of "The Office." But only a few channels appeared to be live while I was testing the early version of Peacock: the new 24/7 TODAY Show channel called "TODAY All Day," NBC News NOW and Sky News, all of which I like as a bit of a news junkie.

The Channels section of Peacock.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I really wish there was more live TV to make Peacock feel more like YouTube TV, Sling or Hulu TV. But those also cost way more than Peacock and include cable TV content, which means it probably won't happen anytime soon — at least on the current pricing tiers. YouTube TV recently upped its price to $64.99 per month, for example.

This is one area of Peacock where I think there's a lot more room for improvement, aside from the live news, since you can always just find older TV shows and movies in the Browse tab. But, it's a good spot to watch live NBC News NOW, Sky News and the "TODAY" show, and an area where Peacock could seemingly create endless channels to browse.

How NBCUniversal can improve Peacock

There are long ads before the start of movies, but then you don't have any more ads during the movie.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I like Peacock Premium. The free tier will be compelling if it still has a lot of the hit shows in the premium version and, if it does, it'll replace the old Hulu model, which used to be free and ad-supported. It's a good starting point for NBCUniversal, and it seems to be doing a lot by combining a cable-style "Channels" experience with lots of on-demand content.

I think NBCUniversal could make some pretty simple changes to add a lot of quick improvements to Peacock.

  • First, it could benefit from user profiles, which would allow different family members to have their own accounts, like on Disney+, Hulu, Netflix and HBO Max. Also, NBCUniversal could lock kids into age-appropriate content instead of managing adult content in a single shared account. NBCUniversal said after this story's publication that profiles are coming in a later version of Peacock.
  • Second, I'd like to see offline downloads. Right now, you can only stream TV shows or movies when you have a connection to the internet. That's not a big deal since most of us are probably still at home in quarantine, but eventually you may want to watch a movie or TV show from Peacock on the airplane or while riding a subway. NBCUniversal said after this story published that a future version of Peacock will allow downloads and offline viewing.
  • Third, NBCUniversal should also try to iron out a deal so that Peacock is available on Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices.  While it has an Apple TV app at launch, Fire TV and Roku are the two platforms used most by people who stream TV shows and movies.
  • Fourth, the iPhone app controls need some work. There isn't a quick back button when you're watching a TV show or a movie in full-screen, for example. You just have to click a small box to make the screen smaller. It wasn't very obvious to me at first.
  • Fifth, Peacock should launch right into your content, so you can continue where you last left off. I'm not a huge fan of the trending section as a starting point. Throw me right into the stuff I want to watch. An NBCUniversal spokesperson said the Apple TV app shows you the Browse section first, but I wasn't able to test that.
  • Finally, the beta app I tested on iPhone didn't support Chromecast or AirPlay, so I couldn't just quickly bring up what I was watching on my Chromecast or Apple TV. That may change before the final app launches for everyone on Wednesday — Peacock advertises Chromecast support — but a spokesperson didn't confirm if the iPhone app will include it at launch or not.

I'm also not wild about the $4.99 plan that I tested, largely because of the long ads you have to watch before you start a movie. It's too long of a wait, especially when you're paying for the service. Instead, I think Peacock's pricing needs to be revised and simplified to two tiers: free with ads and premium without ads. And the content should be the same across both.

The Browse tab in Peacock Premium for iPhone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

So, without having tried the free version, and without a clear answer on what's available in it yet, here's what you should do: Check out the Peacock app because it's free. I'll be doing the same on Wednesday, just to see what's there versus Peacock Premium.

If you like the interface and what's already available in regular free Peacock, then consider paying $4.99 for one month of the ad-supported Peacock Premium version I tested. I think you'll find enough content to at least warrant a one-month payment.

Then make a decision: If there's enough of what you want to watch on Peacock Premium, you should probably just get rid of the ads entirely and get the $9.99 monthly subscription. That's what I'd do, just to avoid the few minutes of ads before every movie. 

Correction: An NBCUniversal spokesperson provided updated figures for hours of content after publication. "The Office" channel provides clips from the show, not full episodes.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

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