Comcast, America’s biggest cable and broadband company (and the owner of NBCUniversal), hasn’t ignored that cord-cutting is on the rise. While they’ve recently raised broadband rates (again), they also want in on the “streaming wars.” Thus, in July 2020, Comcast launched their own streaming service, Peacock.
I’ve given Peacock a look; below are my thoughts on Comcast’s streaming service.
Why the name “Peacock?”
Despite the mixed reactions the streaming service’s name initially got, “Peacock” refers to the bird that’s been NBC’s logo since 1956. The peacock was chosen to promote NBC’s color broadcasting lineup. As such, an animated opening bumper ran before NBC’s color shows, proclaiming them as “brought to you in living color.” (CBS and ABC had similar bumpers before their color programs.) Said bumper ran until the early 70s, when color TV sales finally eclipsed black-and-white sales, though NBC’s primetime lineup had switched to all-color by 1966.
Peacock reflects its network’s legacy in its logo, which includes multicolored dots. Said dots are also used for transition screens (when selecting a show or category, etc.).
Pros of Peacock
It’s free / inexpensive
Peacock offers three tiers:
- A free ad-based tier offering part of its catalog.
- Peacock Premium, at $5/month or $50/year, which offers the full catalog with ads. It also comes with live streaming of NBC’s sports (Sunday Night Football, Premier League soccer, etc.) and WWE wrestling.
- Peacock Premium Plus, at $10/month or $99/year, offers the same features as Premium, but without ads.
Comcast cable TV subscribers get Premium access for free. Ditto internet-only subscribers (like myself), though that requires signing up for a Flex account (more on that below). Premium’s also available for free for Cox cable/broadband customers.
Live streaming “channels”
Similar to Pluto TV, Peacock offers a selection of live streaming “channels” based on its catalog. Show- and category-specific channels include ones for “Saturday Night Live,” NBC News, and various movies. Content that’s also available on demand has the option to start watching from the beginning.
The NBC and Universal Studios libraries, plus sports and WWE wrestling
The Peacock streaming service offers much of the NBC and Universal Studios catalog, plus some third-party material. Some of it’s organized under categories labeled as “Collections.” Said programming includes:
- Popular NBC programs such as “The Office” (heavily hyped at launch, and on the service), “Saturday Night Live” (which is also heavily featured on the service), and the various “Law and Order” spin-offs.
- Classic TV shows, including: “Cheers,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Modern Family,” “Dennis the Menace,” “Married With Children,” “That Girl,” etc. Note some of this is third-party acquired. When I tested an episode of “That Girl” (the Marlo Thomas sitcom that originally aired on ABC in the late 60s; it’s now owned by ViacomCBS), it started with the logo for Filmrise, a third-party streaming company that offers a library of programs for numerous streaming services, such as Roku Channel, Amazon’s IMDB TV, etc.
- “Downton Abbey,” including its theatrical film.
- A section for “SNL Alums,” movies that star current and former “Saturday Night Live” stars.
- Holiday specials “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
- “Yellowstone,” a popular show on the ViacomCBS-owned Paramount Network. Also why it’s not on Paramount+, though there’s plans to create a few spin-offs for that service.
- Much of Universal’s movie catalog, including “Back to the Future,” the classic monster movies, and “The Best Man Holiday.” Some third party movies are also available, such as “Blade.”
- Some animated fare, including: PBS’ “Curious George”; “Nina’s World”; “3-2-1 Penguins!”; the late 1990s “Woody Woodpecker” series; the 90s “Felix the Cat” cartoons; DreamWorks TV shows “Dragons: Riders of Berk,” “Madagascar: A Little Wild,” and “TrollsTopia”; and third party cartoons, such as South Africa’s “Supa Strikas” and the UK’s “Postman Pat.” Movies-wise, there’s the “Despicable Me” and “Kung Fu Panda” movies, plus “Turbo,” “Spirit,” “The Croods,” and the 1990 “Jetsons” movie (which was released by Universal).
- Peacock Originals, including reboots of “Saved by the Bell,” “Punky Brewster,” plus animated shows “Where’s Waldo?” and “Cleopatra in Space.”
Peacock also comes with NBC’s sports coverage, including “Sunday Night Football,” some college football games (I saw a Notre Dame game advertised), and its Olympics coverage. I find the NFL football coverage useful; since Locast shut down, I don’t get NBC over-the-air (I’m not big on antennas, and TV reception where I live is likely hit-and-miss anyway).
The WWE, which once had its own stand-alone streaming service, now calls Peacock home. Peacock offers all current episodes, special events like “Wrestlemania,” plus a back catalog of episodes. I haven’t paid attention to wrestling since high school; I only know about some current wrestlers because A) many people I follow on Twitter are fans and B) I saw the direct-to-video WWE movies co-starring the Flintstones and Jetsons they made a few years ago. Still, the WWE is a popular draw for Peacock.
Cons of Peacock
A smaller catalog versus its competitors
Peacock’s catalog isn’t the biggest. Similar to ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal simply isn’t as big as its rival media conglomerates.
As such, NBCUniversal/Peacock has fewer big franchises on the movie side: mainly “Jurassic Park,” “The Fast and the Furious,” and their classic horror films. (“Halloween Kills” is currently advertised as a same-day-as-in-theaters release on Peacock.) On the TV side, Peacock is pretty reliant on NBC’s shows (versus rivals’ extensive array of cable channels); “The Office,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Parks and Recreation” are heavily promoted.
Finally, Peacock’s animation offerings are pretty anemic, outside of “Curious George” and the DreamWorks/Illumination movies and TV shows. Peacock offers Woody Woodpecker, but unfortunately not his classic cartoons, just the 90s reboot. While Comcast owns DreamWorks (including DreamWorks Classics) and Illumination, they just don’t have as large an animation catalog as Warner Bros., Disney, or ViacomCBS.
Some missing content
Streaming services don’t carry all of their corporate owners’ media libraries. It’s often the case that TV shows and movies are licensed to other services, or simply unavailable. The same is true for Peacock; in its case:
- Some of the DreamWorks library isn’t available. Much of DreamWorks’ fare is made for, or licensed to, other streaming services, particularly Netflix. “Cleopatra in Space,” a Peacock Original, is also available on Hulu.
- The original “Frankenstein” and “Wolf Man” movies are missing; they’re available on other services (Tubi in “Wolf Man”’s case). Peacock does have their sequels and remakes, however.
- The “Phantasm” films are all available, except for part II (it’s on Tubi).
- “Psycho” has its own collection, but the original 1960 film isn’t available (it’s on Showtime).
- The “Back to the Future” films are available, but not the 1990s Saturday morning cartoon (it’s only available on DVD).
- “Law and Order” has only the eight most recent seasons; however, “Special Victims Unit” is all here.
- “Battlestar Galactica”’s section is missing the original 1970s series, but the revivals from the aughts are on Peacock.
- “Seinfeld” and “Friends” aren’t on Peacock, despite being cornerstones of NBC’s lineup in the 90s. The former’s on Netflix, while the latter’s on HBO Max.
No live streaming of local NBC affiliates
While Peacock offering NBC’s sports coverage is a good thing, what it doesn’t offer is live streaming of local NBC affiliates. This is one of rival service Paramount+’s strengths; it’s a shame Peacock doesn’t offer a similar option. Especially given cord cutting and the desire for local TV news/programming.
NBC’s Olympics coverage via Peacock is still mediocre
The Peacock streaming service drew a lot of heat during the 2020 Summer Olympics for its mediocre, incomplete, and confusing coverage. This is despite how heavily hyped Peacock was as a way to watch the games. NBC (and Comcast) still wanted users to subscribe to cable to watch full coverage on its cable channels, versus just paying for Peacock.
Getting free Peacock as a Comcast internet-only customer requires a Flex box
While Peacock’s Premium tier is free for Comcast customers, the internet-only tier requires a Flex streaming box. It’s a small square box that offers Peacock built-in, plus the option to use it to stream other major services (Netflix, HBO Max, etc.). The box can also be used as a cable box if one ever wants to sign up for Comcast’s TV services. While the first box is free, additional boxes for other TVs cost $5/month extra apiece.
Fortunately, while signing up for the Flex box is required, using the box isn’t required to get free Peacock access. I simply set up Peacock through the box, then unplugged it and put the box in storage, while accessing Peacock through the app on my Roku device.
Some material’s organized under special categories, including:
- “Double Feature”, such as the first two “Blade” movies.
- “Celebrating Black-Led Movies”: various movies starring Black people, including “The Best Man Holiday,” “Menace II Society,” “Boo! A Madea Halloween,” “The Hurricane,” and “Fear of a Black Hat.”
- NBC’s recent musicals, under a “musicals” category. These include the “Hairspray” and “Wiz” productions; the 1978 movie “The Wiz” is also available.
- “Celebrating Indigenous Heritage,” featuring TV shows and movies starring Indigenous people.
Organization of material seems OK.
Who should use Peacock?
Overall, the Peacock streaming service is best for the following users:
- Anyone using the free tier, similar to other free services like Tubi or Crackle.
- Comcast or Cox customers who get the Premium tier for free.
- WWE fans.
- Premier League fans.
- NFL (and other NBC sports) fans who can’t get their NBC affiliate over-the-air or through other means.
- Olympics fans.
- NBC programming fans.
- Movie buffs who want the Universal film library.
The free Peacock tier’s worthwhile. However, if you don’t fit the above usage reasons, the paid version of Peacock isn’t a must-have streaming service. If you’re just looking to pay for generic TV viewing, other services are available at similar price points, but offer more features and/or stronger libraries (Paramount+, Disney+, Hulu, etc.). I suspect some of Peacock’s flaws point to its roots as a cable company creation.
One major improvement Peacock could make is to offer local NBC station streaming as an option. (It’d also lend support to their affiliates, especially with constant cable company carriage disputes.) Another improvement’s not requiring a Flex box for Comcast internet-only customers to get free access.
Screenshot of main Peacock page. (Peacock / screenshot by author)