NBC's Free Surfing Peacock

A smart bit of counter programming and UX in the streaming era

Nicole Sperling of The New York Times spoke with Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock on the launch of their entrant into the streaming wars:

Mr. Strauss, who was the executive vice president of Comcast’s Xfinity Services before taking the helm of Peacock in October, said the three-month testing period had proved that streaming viewers were just as happy to flip through options before settling on a show, just as they did in the traditional TV era.

That finding prompted the company to build 20 channels within Peacock. In addition to the late-night and “Today” feeds, it will have one dedicated to “Saturday Night Live” and others for news and sports. The company said it will expand the offering to 40 channels within the platform in the coming months, on its way to 70 by year’s end.

At first, this “channels” concept confused me as they’re not what we traditionally think of as channels, like NBC itself, for example. But it’s actually quite clever. It allows Peacock to take their various properties and shows to play around with in a way that brings back the idea of “channel surfing”.

This more passive way of watching television is something that I’ve long felt has been lacking in the move to streaming. We now have basically infinite options of what to watch on demand, and as such, having to pick can be debilitating. Yes, that’s even true with Netflix’s algorithms, which make it easier, but still requires an active choice. These Peacock channels allow you to browse and get sucked into something — I just got sucked into an Office “short” for example, while writing this — like the old days.

Peacock is vital to Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, a late arrival to streaming. The company has designed the service so that it generates the bulk of its revenue from advertising, rather than subscriptions.

The ad-supported version offers more than 10,000 hours of content, with no more than five minutes of commercials for each hour of programming. The platform also comes in two other versions: Peacock Premium, with ads and more 20,000 hours of content, at $5 a month (or free for Comcast and Cox cable subscribers); and a second iteration of Peacock Premium, with no commercials, at $10 a month.

While I may not have understood channels right off the bat, I did understand the idea of doing an ad-supported, free service. I think this is smart counter-programing to most of the other (major) streamers. A big — the biggest — part of subscription fatigue is, of course, paying for yet another service. Peacock allows you to not have to make that choice. You still have to download and sign up. But you can start watching right away without paying anything.

That’s exactly what we did this week and guess what? Peacock is pretty good! We started watching The Capture (made alongside BBC) and it’s solid. It’s also great lead gen for upgrading to a paid tier, as you can get access to the whole season right away. Obviously, we’re going to do that now. And while the ads are minimal, we’ll probably opt for no commercials because, ads are generally awful these days.