Feature Article

Peacock Streaming Service Review: What Works And What Doesn't

NBCUniversal's new streaming service has one great feature and nothing else.

NBCUniversal's Peacock has arrived, but if you're like most people around the world, there's a good chance you won't be able to watch it on your favorite TV, as it's not available on Roku or Amazon devices. With other major services like HBO Max--which has the same Roku and Amazon issue--and the dead-on-arrival Quibi also launching this year, where does Peacock fit?

Sadly, the service--which had a soft launch earlier this year for Xfinity users--is a letdown from the get-go. Accessing a new streaming service shouldn't be an issue. Accessibility should be the least problematic thing about it, yet here we are. As mentioned, Peacock is not available on Roku and Amazon, which combined have over 72 million active users. Additionally, PS4 users won't be able to use Peacock until the week of July 20.

It also isn't available on Samsung smart TVs. You can, however, use one of Xfinity's (Comcast) proprietary boxes to watch Peacock. Comcast users have the easiest time accessing this, but if you're like me and want nothing to do with Comcast, then your options are limited.

Once you figure out how to access Peacock, what you see is a very pretty, and easy-to-use app. We tested Peacock on iOS, desktop browser, Xbox One, and Android. At first glance, it looks great. There are sections at the top to select from: Featured, TV Shows, Movies, Kids, News, Sports, and Latino--along with lower options consisting of Channels, Trending, Browse, and search. And again, aesthetically, it looks great--until you start actually trying to find something to watch within a certain genre.

Typically, you'd do this by looking through TV or movie selections under a specific genre you want to watch. However, Peacock has rebranded some genres and skipped using terms like "horror" and "comedy" altogether. Action & Adventure is there, along with Sci-Fi & Fantasy and Documentaries. But if you're looking for horror, that's under "Fright Night" or "Classic Monsters." Comedy has been relabeled "Comic Relief" and maybe "Feel Good Features." There's also a Nicolas Cage section, in case you want to catch up on all the straight-to-VOD features he's been in over the past decade. Is there ever a wrong time to watch Bangkok Dangerous? But why not just label things the way we're all used to seeing? And while having a bank of Nicolas Cage movies to choose from may be up some people's alleys, sections like that should be at the bottom of the categories list, with the genres up front. It's a lot like how Netflix categorizes some niche genres like "Super-Powered Fantasy and Sci-Fi." However, Netflix also includes its main genres when you're browsing the service.

Peacock landing page
Peacock landing page

Additionally, when searching for movies or TV shows through the A-Z listing or in any of Peacock's sections, the content is alphabetically listed but counts "The" and "A/An" as part of the title. This is nitpicky, but when searching for a movie, you come across an onslaught of films that start with "The," and it's frustrating.

As for the content itself, it's nice to see that Peacock lets you know when something is leaving the service, but why are so many TV shows and movies leaving the service already? On launch day, there was a note on Fast & Furious that it was leaving in a matter of hours. Seeing the lack of films from the Furious franchise on this app, since it's a Universal property, is a bit of a letdown. In fact, a lot of popular movies already on Peacock are leaving soon, like the Jurassic Park and Matrix films. When you remove the big films that are on their way out, what you're left with is a lot of classic Universal Pictures movies, which is fine, but Peacock needs contemporary content to bring people in.

There are also plenty of originals to choose from at launch. If you want to find them, you'll have to check out the Featured section of the site, below Peacock Picks, Continue Watching, and Watchlist--and the layout was the same on all the devices we tested. You'd think they'd make tracking them down easier, but I digress. A few of the higher-profile originals are featured at the very top of the section, like Brave New World and the original film Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. All the episodes for the original TV series were released at once, so you can binge-watch everything in one weekend if you'd like. Day One includes the launch of 11 original TV shows and movies, with three of the series being geared towards children and four being documentaries/docuseries. For those who are excited to watch the original programming, it can be a bit frustrating to figure out where these shows are. However, frustration quickly becomes normal while using the app.

Throughout Day One, Continuing Watching and Watchlist kept disappearing from the Featured sections on the app. When trying to add programming to my watchlist on an iPad, a message popped up saying I was offline; however, I could start playing a show with no problems. This was also an issue on Xbox as well. A browser on PC was the only place I could add or delete items from the list for the first few hours spent with the app.

Luckily, video playback on Peacock is smooth. Everything played immediately in high definition with no noticeable lag between hitting play and the content beginning. There was also no jumping back and forth between HD and SD, something Hulu, Netflix, and HBO Max do on occasion. This is one of the few bright spots for the streaming service. However, if you're using a version of the service with ads, and you want to skip ahead, be prepared to deal with some ads, even if you just started the TV show or movie.

The other major bright spot for Peacock is a new feature that many other major services don't have, which is "Channels." In this section, you can watch non-stop SNL skits or The Office "shorts"--even though The Office is streaming on Netflix currently. These "shorts" are just clips from the show, largely consisting of cold opens from the series. If you're into sports, there are live events as well, which primarily consists of Premier League soccer at this point. If you live for the thrill of this sport, that's great, and lucky for you, Premier League soccer can be watched live with the free tier. Peacock was planning extensive coverage of this year's Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Channels section is great, especially if you want to have Saturday Night Live play in the background while you work, as it's just a collection of skits and not full episodes. There are a variety of channels to choose from. However, you'll come across ads from time to time, even if you have the "ad-free" version of the service.

The "ad-free" tier really isn't "ad-free." If you're binge-watching a TV series, you'll occasionally get ads in between episodes for Peacock, the service you're already paying for. These ad-breaks are 30-seconds long, and they let you know about all the things you probably already know about, as the content covered is in the featured section on the app. If you're paying more to not have ads, then there shouldn't be ads. It's that simple. Ad-breaks while watching the SNL channel were for soap and car insurance. Apparently, Peacock thinks I'm dirty and a reckless driver.

Peacock is the most disappointing streaming service launch of 2020, so far. While HBO Max had issues with accessibility, the service worked and had plenty of binge-worthy content. While Quibi was a poorly-formatted experience with lackluster programming, it was easy to use. Peacock has NBCUniversal behind it and it soft-launched in April, so why are there so many issues? There was time to fix these problems. The Channels section is the only real highlight here. Peacock could be a decent service, if it wasn't bogged down with other issues, content leaving too quickly, and a market that's already saturated with other bland streaming services, and some great ones as well. It doesn't stand out, and until more original programming or tentpole movie franchises and TV shows come along, it is not worth your subscription dollars.

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Mat Elfring

News Editor of GameSpot Entertainment. Continues to Bolieve, even in 2021.

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