A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
New streaming service Peacock spreads its wings
Everything you need to know about Peacock
With Peacock we are entering the new phase of streaming services. For quite a few years the leading streaming service was Netflix with every competitor playing catch-up.
But there has been a lot of movement in streaming over the last year - everyone has stepped up their game. And now, with the launch of NBCUniversal’s Peacock, every major media company has caught up. Consumers now have a variety of sophisticated and appealing streaming services competing for their attention.
Peacock joins a crowded space:
Netflix | HBO Max | Amazon Prime Video | Hulu | Apple TV+ | Disney+ | CBS All Access
And that’s before you start considering second tier services like Tubi, the ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV, Britbox, and all of the niche streaming services like Crunchyroll, Fox Nation, Mubi, Criterion Channel, Kanopy, etc.
NBCUniversal have launched Peacock with a rich library of content. But is that enough? After all - all of the major services all have a lot of strong premium content in their libraries. Having spent some time with Peacock, I’m inclined to see it as a valued addition, with some caveats…
How much am I paying for yet another streamer?
Already the market is swamped with options. At a certain point two questions need to be asked by a prospective subscriber:
How many streaming services can I afford?
How much TV can I actually watch anyway?
Peacock addresses both questions nicely with its price point: $0.
There’s already a few other streaming services that cost nothing - Tubi and Pluto TV being the most prominent. So it isn’t as if Peacock is being innovative here with releasing what is an ad-supported service. What Peacock need to answer is whether they’re offering enough interesting content that makes it worth opening the app on a regular basis. They’re launching with destination content that has a strong lure (see: The Office, 30 Rock, Law & Order). But once I watch all of that, will there be enough else to watch? I’m not 100% convinced on that front.
It is disingenuous to say Peacock is completely free. It isn’t. But there is a free tier and you get quite a lot to watch at that level.
The three tiers of Peacock are:
13,000 hours of content
Access to Peacock’s linear channels
Movies including: The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum, Jurassic Park, Tully, Phantom Thread, The Interpreter, American Psycho, The Matrix/Reloaded/Revolutions, The Blair Witch Project, The Mummy, Fletch, and many, many more. These are all well-known, popular titles.
TV shows including 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, Saved by the Bell, Friday Night Lights, Downton Abbey, Parenthood, Monk, Royal Pains, Battlestar Galactica, Columbo, Hunter, The Rockford Files, Munsters, Murder She Wrote, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Real Housewives of Dallas, Hell’s Kitchen, Betty en NY, and many more. It’s a strong mix of comedies, dramas, reality, and kids shows.
Current NBC episodes debut on streaming one week after they air.
Sport with select matches from the Premier League, US Open Championship and Women’s Open Championships. There’s also some on demand replays and an extensive library of sports documentaries.
Peacock Premium - $4.99 per month
All of the above
Peacock Originals. Launch titles are a bit uninspiring, but include: Brave New World, The Capture, Intelligence, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, Where’s Waldo?, Cleopatra In Space, and Curious George.
A deeper library of movies including Shrek, Lone Survivor, Ted, Identity Thief, Children of Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
A deeper library of TV shows including Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, Superstore, Frasier, Cheers, House, The Affair, Yellowstone, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Ray Donovan, Swedish Dicks and American Ninja Warrior.
Current NBC shows the day after they air on broadcast.
Earlier access to late night shows The Tonight Show and Late Night from 8pm - several hours earlier than broadcast.
Sports including 175+ exclusive Premier League matches for the 2020-2021 season; the Tour De France and La Vuelta, and 100 hours+ of WWE content.
Peacock Premium Plus - $9.99 per month
All of the above, but ad-free.
The point of difference: linear channels
Peacock is the closest that a streaming service has so far gotten to delivering the promise of delivering a service that melds together the best elements of broadcast and on-demand viewing.
When you first log in, you will see that there are two functions on offer: Channels and Browse. The default tab is Browse, which offers an experience users are familiar with. It is on-demand video. There’s original series like Brave New World (based on the Aldous Huxley book we all read at school), dramas like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (with all 21 seasons available at the click of a button), and binge favourites like 30 Rock.
But then there is also the Channels tab, which is where Peacock is defining itself as different to its competitors. Click on Channels and you’ll find a suite of streaming linear channels delivered in a grid as below. It looks and feels like a similar experience to what viewers have experienced with linear cable TV.
Channels include NBC News Now, which has a presenter throwing to news stories from across the NBC news division. This also includes interesting segments from news programs. For example, pictured above is MSNBC presenter Steve Kornacki who was filling in on the 7-8pm slot on the news channel, but towards the end of the hour he gave an update on recent polling (which is his usual function on MSNBC). A couple of hours later, that segment had been pulled out by NBC News Now and was now used as a clip that functions without the context of the rest of the show he was presenting.
Today All Day repurposes clips from the breakfast Today show and produces similar fresh content to provide a 24/7 channel.
There are dedicated channels screening nothing but content from Saturday Night Live, The Office, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, Unsolved Mysteries, and Hell’s Kitchen. There’s also themed channels like 80s Mixtape which has shows like 21 Jump Street, Comedy Dynamics with stand-up comedy specials, and Peacock Reality with a mix of less well-known reality shows.
All up, there’s around 30 channels.
Making the case for linear
Netflix hasn’t completely defined the digital television experience. But it has defined a type of the experience. When you load up Peacock and see the on-demand Browse section, that part of Peacock is all completely defined by Netflix. The look and feel is very similar.
NBC is a broadcaster. It’s one of the longest running TV broadcasters and has defined so much of the medium over the years. Its influence on the medium and culture at large is unassailable. It can be argued that NBC actually did define the analogue TV experience (hand-in-hand with CBS).
On the face of it, the NBC style of linear broadcast is outdated and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, the idea of having to wait until 9pm on Tuesday nights every week to watch an episode of This Is Us that was recorded months prior seems arbitrary. Surely the Netflix experience is the superior delivery method so that we can watch our stories? And the answer to that is obviously yes. But that is also a myopic view of television.
Instead of sunsetting linear TV, it is important to consider that there are still aspects of linear that fit comfortably into our viewing. Specific genres like news and sports which demand live consumption make a lot more sense on linear than on-demand.
But then there’s our relationship to watching TV. So much of the TV we watch isn’t really watched - we don’t always want to make active choices when we watch TV.
Netflix is great because it gives us on-demand access to the shows we want to watch when we want to watch them. But sometimes viewers are just after some viewing that runs in the background to engage with only when looking up at the TV. This is the sort of TV you watch while chatting with family members, doing chores, updating your TV culture newsletter, cooking, scrolling social media, paying bills, etc.
The bird isn’t perfect
There’s a lot that I like about Peacock. Like the recently launched HBO Max, Peacock immediately feels confident and fully-formed. But there’s a few aspects that just feel a bit off at first blush:
The library is too light on deep dives. Yes, it’s great to have access to every episode of Cheers and The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond and Law & Order, but… is that all you’ve got? Why aren’t there beloved shows that aired on NBC that aren’t currently streaming anywhere? Why isn’t the library filled with shows like Homicide: Life on The Street, The Single Guy, Mad About You, Newsradio, Midnight Caller, Night Court, LA Law, Empty Nest, Profiler, etc?
Why isn’t one of the streaming Peacock channels MSNBC? It is unlikely that MSNBC will ever be a standalone service that people would subscribe to, so why not add value to Peacock by including it? If MSNBC is the last thing propping up the NBCU-owned Comcast cable TV service, then Comcast have more serious problems that need to be dealt with.
On mobile platforms Peacock’s default launch screen is a tab called Trending. It’s a randomly curated list of short videos - news stories, clips, trailers, etc. But… why? Trending is just a distraction that slows users down from watching content they actually wish to watch. Get rid of it.
Ultimately, Peacock is good. The library is strong enough and offers shows that you know and love. What it doesn’t offer a lot of is discovery of shows you’re less familiar with. And, as I’ve expressed, the library is fairly surface with only well-known shows that have either recently been visible on other streaming platforms or have been constantly repeated on television for years.
Would a person opt for Peacock instead of Netflix? I wouldn’t imagine so. But for someone who is considering having Netflix plus 2-3 other services, this would have to be a contender. The free option means most people will have this downloaded and will check it out when they have the desire to watch The Office, but the real value that would make this a contender to use as one of your main streamers is everything Peacock is porting over from linear TV - the lean-back nature of its linear channels, live sports, etc.
Worth watching out for: How will Peacock stand-up to the reformatted & re-branded CBS All Access next year? It is expected that when ViacomCBS re-launch the service that all of the Pluto TV linear channels will be a core part of the app. Pluto already has a large number of very watchable filler linear channels that draw upon the deep ViacomCBS library of shows and brands.
Also, will we start seeing more streamers offering a free tier like Peacock? It seems almost like a necessity.
Peacock isn’t exactly a game-changer. But it is NBCUniversal stepping up and establishing its place in the streaming landscape. It’s a good product and has strong potential to be a more substantial player. The only thing that will hold it back is if NBCU play things too safe in trying to protect their cable holdings with Comcast or their relationships with affiliate stations.
The bird has promise.
Oh…. wait, wait, wait… I’m not done yet. This part isn’t going to interest anyone but Australians. So, feel free to ignore this bit if it’s not of interest…
Down under impact
As Always Be Watching is based out of Sydney, Australia - a region not serviced by Peacock, I’m curious to see how local broadcasters evolve their platforms to meet the new standard being delivered by Peacock with its mix of premium movies & TV with low-cost linear streaming channels.
Already 9Now, 7Plus, ABC iView, SBS On Demand, and 10play have a mix of on demand content and their broadcast linear channels, but will we see any of them attempt to create streaming-only linear channels with content lifted from their archives? A 24/7 Home & Away channel, a constant stream of clips of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, etc.
The reality is this: The biggest threat to eyeballs on Peacock comes from CBS All Access. As soon as that beefs up with more content - both on-demand and linear streaming channels, Peacock’s similar content offering will look a lot less appealing. Viewers only have so many hours in the day and even less interest in flipping through multiple services to find a quick and easy viewing option.
Right now the ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV offers 250+ random low-cost streaming channels. It is very easy to find something to watch quickly. As soon as ViacomCBS add Pluto TV into the same app with its premium CBS All Access content, that becomes highly compelling.
Don’t underestimate the time-sucking ability of these low-cost linear channels. It’s very easy to lose an hour or two to 70s game shows (on the great Buzzr channel), or stand-up comedy clips, or old Star Trek: Next Generation episodes. That’s time not being spent on premium content that costs actual money to broadcast.
Putting this into an Australian context - how well does 9Now stack up against a revamped CBS All Access with 250+ linear channels, a rich library of movies from the Universal Pictures library, and all of that ViacomCBS TV content? How well does SBS On Demand hold up against the same? Yes, it has a much deeper library of movies to watch on demand… but SBS content doesn’t hold up well to background viewing. All of that subtitled content makes for a lean-forward experience.
Worth thinking about at a time where the word is that ViacomCBS will be taking its new app international - one would have to assume that Australia will be one of the first places it launches, leveraging the infrastructure already in place with the current incarnation of the app 10 All Access.
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