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Another app? With Peacock, NBC tries to roll back the clock to cable

NBC finally gave us details about Peacock, its new streaming service, during an investor event Thursday, and I’m uncharacteristically upset about it. I know, I know: It’s just streaming TV. But as someone raised watching The Brady Bunch in black-and-white with a coat hanger for an antenna and who now enjoys bingeing Lost in Space on Netflix, I feel Peacock is emblematic of everything wrong with modern streaming TV.

I don’t need it, I don’t want it, and I wish it would go away – and I don’t think I’m alone.

Peacock, following the strategy of the likes of Disney+ and CBS All Access, offers a ton of its own NBC and Universal Pictures content in one streaming channel. Its TV library has hits like Parks and Recreation, Will and Grace, and (eventually) The Office, while its movie library holds such favorites as The Breakfast Club, American Pie, and Meet the Fockers. Original shows will include dramas like a sequel to the latest Battlestar Galactica series, comedies including a Punky Brewster reboot (?) and original shows produced by NBC stars like Tina Fey, and unscripted shows like a spinoff of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. NBC has also inked a deal with Kevin Hart to bring his LOL Network’s content to viewers.

OK, so how much?

Michael Scott The Office
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The service offers a free, ad-supported tier and a paid subscription plan that streams content ad-free. Oh, wait … it’s actually more complicated than that.

There’s the free tier, called Peacock Free, that has limited access to content, not streamed in 4K/HDR, with ads. Then there’s a $5 subscription tier, Peacock Premium, that gives you more content to watch, bumps resolution up to 4K/HDR, and still has ads. Then there’s a super-premium option which gives subscribers everything with no ads for $10 a month. Confused yet? There’s more.

Comcast subscribers will get the $5 tier for free with their X1 subscription, and if you are an internet-only subscriber with Comcast’s Xfinity Flex streaming box in your home, that $5 tier is also free for you. Ditto that for Cox subscribers. Ah, and Comcast subscribers get exclusive access to Peacock for three months starting April 15, with the app released to everyone else on July 15.

What’s even crazier is that the way Peacock will be integrated into Comcast, you could literally be confused into using the service unawares.

None of this makes any sense to me.

Old-school, in a bad way

Peacock looks like the worst version yet of the “Old-school-broadcast-networks-don’t-get-today’s-streaming-TV-landscape” dilemma, and the network pretty much admitted that during its investor announcement event. NBC says Peacock is a 21st-century version of its ad-based broadcast business, and while it may think this is a solid business model, it seems to forget it has to convince people to use its streaming service in order for it to work. I am not convinced Peacock can do that. I certainly won’t be clicking or subscribing. Not even for free.

By creating yet another streaming channel to pitch its in-house wares, NBC is the biggest player yet to transform streaming TV into a big, internet-delivered cable TV service. Adding to that argument is that Peacock even offers the option to look like cable TV. A traditional tile-based interface is available, but so is an old-school programming grid-based interface because, NBC says, linear channels and the grid are still popular.

Yeah they are, but the people who use them will probably stick to their cable subscriptions.

Also, NBC’s notion of streaming channels within a streaming channel as a customization option only compounds the problem. Peacock is not going to solve the issue of ping-ponging through apps that I and every other streamer experience.

Ultimately, Peacock is yet another app you have to keep track of, another place to try to find the content you want to watch, and another subscription cost or another place to watch ads – or all of the above, depending on which way you go. And frankly, most of the people who might want to watch the content Peacock has are probably already doing so on cable/on-demand, and are just fine with that.

From where I sit, Peacock doesn’t have the target market it thinks it does – not a very big one, at least. To be clear, I understand NBC is jumping into the fray because it has to. Licensing deals aren’t enough, apparently. NBC wants to migrate to where viewers are migrating. The problem is viewers have already settled in. I don’t think they want yet another subscription service. There’s just not enough allure.

Content is king

NBC's Peacock Interface

Sure, NBC plans to have some original content available only on Peacock, but a reboot of Saved By The Bell? Are they serious right now? Also, getting to watch late-night talk shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers a few hours early doesn’t seem particularly compelling. The people who watch late-night television each and every night already have broadcast or cable TV — the rest of us just watch the best-of clips on YouTube.

As for movies? I mean, I like Back to the Future and Brokeback Mountain as much as anyone, but I was happier when I could watch them on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu – subscriptions I already have that offer me way more. Perhaps what bugs me most is that Peacock has just enough good movies on it for me to be upset they are on Peacock, but not enough for me to subscribe. Good thing I still have my VHS player.

How is Disney+ making this same formula work? A lot of the content there has been locked in Disney’s vault for ages, not to be found anywhere else. Then there’s the cult following around Marvel and Star Wars that will pull those fans anywhere Disney wants them to go. NBC doesn’t have any ongoing franchises with nearly that much power.

If streaming TV was already fragmented before, Peacock is shattering it, and I don’t want to step on the shards. I don’t care if it is some freaky hybrid of free and ad-supported. In fact, I hate that. If I have to go into their app to watch this stuff, I’d want it to be ad-free. But I don’t even want to do that. And I definitely don’t want to spend $10 a month for the privilege.

There’s one big elephant in the room: People love to stream classic shows. The Office has long been one of the most popular shows on Netflix, but that’s a side benefit. You watch those kinds of shows because you already have Netflix and they’re right there, easy to click on, when you open the app. They’re not drawing people to streaming services on their own.

Plus, there is way too much good stuff to watch out there right now. I want to move beyond the past. I’d rather watch fresh shows like The Witcher than 30 Rock reruns, thanks.

Peacock? More like Poppycock. Now kindly get your kids off my damn lawn.

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Caleb Denison
Digital Trends Editor at Large Caleb Denison is a sought-after writer, speaker, and television correspondent with unmatched…
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